Republican Glenn Youngkin faces former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) in Tuesday’s election, and the outcome will boil down to voter turnout as the two candidates head into Election Day in a dead heat, with more than a million votes already cast.
The two candidates are virtually tied in almost every recent poll, but Youngkin, a political newcomer who was essentially unknown prior to running for office, narrowly pulled ahead of longtime politician and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) in the RealClearPolitics average of polls in late October, demonstrating a rare boost of momentum that is giving downtrodden Virginia Republicans hope.
Running alongside Youngkin are former Del. Winsome Sears, a Jamaican immigrant and military veteran running for lieutenant governor, and Del. Jason Miyares, a Cuban American hoping to unseat incumbent Attorney General Mark Herring (D).
One hundred House of Delegate seats are also up for grabs and present an opportunity for a GOP flip, given some 20-plus of those races are considered toss-ups.
While Youngkin, a 54-year-old former CEO in private equity, spent his last day on the campaign trail rallying thousands of supporters in key areas like Loudoun County and Virginia Beach, McAuliffe, a 64-year-old political insider, had modest audiences in the state capital of Richmond and Northern Virginia’s deeply blue Fairfax County.
Youngkin’s final pitch to voters was made Monday night in Loudoun, the navel of the education debates between parents and schools boards, where transgender policies and infusing Critical Race Theory into school curriculums have been thrust into the spotlight.
McAuliffe, by stark contrast, ended his campaign alongside Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the largest teachers’ unions in the country.
Weingarten, who famously deviated from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines and urged school closures in 2020 because of coronavirus, attempted to dispel the dominating narrative as the race comes to a close that McAuliffe sides with school boards over parents.
She told the crowd, according to a Hill reporter, that there is a lot of “misinformation” going around about the subject but that parents are “partners” in education.
— Julia Manchester (@JuliaManch) November 1, 2021
Before Youngkin won the nomination, he was campaigning on the vow that he would keep schools open after much of Virginia transitioned to virtual classes in 2020. His campaign pitch has since transformed into a pro-parent, pro-school choice, pro-school funding movement as schools became the feature issue in the race.
McAuliffe supplied rocket fuel to Youngkin’s position when he said in the final gubernatorial debate in late September, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” a now-viral remark that epitomized the nationwide fight between outraged parents and school administrators.
Youngkin’s momentum had already been on the rise however, aligning almost perfectly with President Joe Biden’s plunge in job approval, which began to drop noticeably following a hasty and disastrous withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and continuing into October as the president failed to unite Democrats on his multitrillion-dollar infrastructure plans, which continue hitting snags in Congress.
McAuliffe, for his part, has focused more on the former president, Donald Trump, lobbing Trump’s name around at every turn as an attack on Youngkin. McAuliffe calls the Virginia Republican “Trumpian” and a “Trump wannabe” as he endlessly cites the former president’s endorsement of Youngkin and a comment Youngkin once made about Trump representing “so much” of why he was running.
Glenn Youngkin endorsed Trump for 2024. He says Trump is so much of the reason why he’s running. We don’t want a Trump wannabe as our governor here in Virginia.
— Terry McAuliffe (@TerryMcAuliffe) October 6, 2021
The tactic of tying Youngkin to Trump in a state that already does not favor Trump, according to the 2020 election results, could work for or against McAuliffe. The question of whether anti-Trump sentiment provokes poll-goers, as it did in 2020, or turns them off to McAuliffe’s comments entirely — effectively making McAuliffe’s most used attack line moot — will be answered Tuesday.
Ironically, Youngkin does not resemble Trump as he focuses his campaign on education reform, lowering taxes, and creating jobs, targeting Virginia-specific issues rather than embracing the “MAGA” brand and touting America First agenda items as the former president did during his tenure.
Youngkin also did not close out his campaign with Trump, or any other major Republican players, while McAuliffe, a well-connected former chair of the Democratic National Committee and longtime ally of the Clinton family, called in all the big-name surrogates — President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, former President Barack Obama, and activist Stacey Abrams — to boost his campaign.
Youngkin’s campaign noted the Virginia Republican embarked on his final 50-stop statewide tour solo “to highlight the contrast between the grassroots enthusiasm for Glenn Youngkin’s candidacy and Terry McAuliffe’s desperate campaign that needs fellow career politicians … to draw mediocre crowds that attended to see the surrogates, not Terry.”
With Youngkin also self-funding more than a third of the $57 million he has raised, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, the wealthy businessman has also been able to keep pace with McAuliffe, a notoriously prolific fundraiser, in terms of campaign cash. McAuliffe had started 2021 with $5 million on hand and has gone on to raise more than $51 million, positioning him nearly evenly with Youngkin fundraising-wise as of October 21.
As the race now comes down to its final hours, McAuliffe has everything to lose as an experienced governor running in a blue-leaning state that has voted exclusively for Democrat presidents and governors during the past decade.
The polls remain open in the Old Dominion until 7:00 p.m. Tuesday, and the only certainty at this stage in the race is that McAuliffe is no longer the shoo-in candidate he appeared to be when he secured his nomination in June.
Write to Ashley Oliver at [email protected].