Today is the last day for Virginians to vote in what has become an unexpectedly close race for governor between former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and newcomer Republican candidate, Glenn Youngkin – who has gained considerable ground in recent days.
Political watchers across the country are keeping tabs on this year’s race as a proxy for the political mood, as the outcome may offer insight into what might be ahead for both parties in the 2022 midterm elections.
From the beginning, Democrats expected McAuliffe to coast into the Governor’s mansion in a state which saw Biden beat Trump by 10 points in the last election – yet Youngkin has gained massive ground after focusing on parents’ anger over schools – which includes pandemic mandates and critical race theory. McAuliffe, meanwhile, said during a debate with Youngkin “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” a decidedly poor move.
McAuliffe’s campaign has faltered amid anecdotal accounts of an apathetic Democratic voter base. Biden’s standing in the commonwealth is mediocre, with his approval rating in the low 40s in several polls.
The upshot is that Youngkin appears to have the momentum going into Election Day on Tuesday. The level of enthusiasm at recent campaign events has been tangibly greater for Youngkin, even in the Democratic-leaning Northern Virginia suburbs. -The Hill
Meanwhile, the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics has shifted its opinion of the race from “leans Democratic” to “leans Republican.”
“Youngkin has the enthusiasm, the environment, the history, and perhaps even the issues (given his focus on education and its increasing salience in polling). McAuliffe has the state’s Democratic lean in his favor. However, we do feel we owe it to readers to push this race one way or the other and not just move it to a Toss-Up rating at the end. So we’re moving from Leans Democratic to Leans Republican.”
PredictIt has Youngkin with a significant lead.
The shift comes after McAuliffe spent considerable time pressing his Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill to pass two major bills in order to show that Democrats are able to capitalize on their slim majority in Congress – yet fighting within the party has resulted in a political quagmire.
And as the New York Post notes, what’s going on in Virginia may be part of a 30-year political epicycle in which a Democrat wins the White House and then ‘lurches left’ – causing a backlash that reverberates to off-year elections in Virginia and New Jersey.
In 1993 it was Bill Clinton, who ran for office as a “new kind of Democrat,” promising to “end welfare as we know it” and pledging not to raise taxes on the middle class. Instead Clinton moved left, dumping his welfare reform promise in favor of an unpopular nationalized health care scheme that a Democratic Congress never even put to a vote, raising taxes on the middle class, and promoting the boutique liberal cause of gays in the military (though ultimately settling for the muddle of “don’t ask, don’t tell”).
Republicans swept the governors’ races in Virginia and New Jersey in 1993 and made large gains in both state legislatures, previewing the GOP landslides in the House and Senate in 1994, when Republicans gained 54 seats in the House for their first House majority in 40 years, and eight seats in the Senate that also gave the GOP a majority. Clinton immediately tacked to the center and remained there for the rest of his presidency.
The pattern repeated itself in 2009 following Barack Obama’s sharp left turn from the vague platform of “hope and change,” leading to Republicans to once again capture the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey that year.
A win for Youngkin would be a massive boost to Republicans nationwide – and would add to President Biden’s woes which include failing approval ratings, supply chain issues, inflation, and absolute chaos trying to get his legislative agenda passed.
As The Hill‘s Niall Stanage notes, “Even a narrow win for Democrats in Virginia would likely not be enough to calm the party’s nerves as it looks towards next year’s midterm elections — and beyond, to the 2024 presidential election where they fear the specter of Trump will be resurrected.”