What happens in Virginia on Election Day will not be in Virginia.
“The nation’s eyes are on Virginia,” Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin declared on the campaign trail last weekend. “As Virginia goes, so does the nation.”
Virginia and New Jersey are the only two states to hold gubernatorial races in the year following a presidential election, which guarantees that they both catch a lot of attention. And Virginia, a one-time battlefield for parliamentary elections that is still very competitive between the two major parties, is seen as a key barometer ahead of next year’s midterm elections, where Democrats will defend their slender majority in the House of Representatives and Senate.
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“On Tuesday, people will look at it as a bell for what is to come. And I want Virginia to once again show this country the way to go,” the rep stressed. James Clyburn, the third-ranked House Democrat, as he campaigned this weekend with Democratic gubernatorial nominee, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
The final polls in the showdown indicated a race for margins of error, and a victory in Youngkin in a state that President Biden carried by 10 points in November last year and where Republicans have not won nationwide for a dozen years would increase Democrats’ concerns ahead of next year’s struggle for control of Congress.
Although they are not on the ballot, both President and former President Trump have been front and center in the race.
McAuliffe has fought an enthusiasm gap among Democrats that may be used politically after the hard-fought battle of 2020 to defeat Trump, demoralized over Biden’s fluttering polls and frustrated by the current lack of progress on the part of the president and congressional Democrats on their social spending and human infrastructure measures and other top priorities.
And a defeat in Virginia in the first major election during Biden’s term in the White House would serve as a major political setback for a president who has already endured a very rocky late summer and fall.
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McAuliffe, hoping to fire up the Democrats, has picked up his party’s biggest stars to join him on the campaign track, from Biden to former President Barack Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris and other top politicians. And the former governor has not wasted an opportunity at his events, in his interviews and in the statements and announcements of his campaign to connect Youngkin with Trump, who has supported the GOP nominee.
“Trump wants to win here so he can run for president for 2024,” McAuliffe said at a kickoff Sunday. “That’s what’s at stake in this election. He wants to get off the mat.
The strategy is simple: Opposition to Trump triggered large turnout from Democrats during his presidency, helping to boost the blue wave that enabled Democrats to convincingly win the House of Representatives back in the 2018 midterm and help drive Bid for victory over Trump last November. choice. And while he continued to have plenty of influence over Republican voters in Virginia and nationally, while flirting with another riot in the White House, the final polls in the Virginia race indicated that Trump remains very unpopular among Democrats and independents voters in the Commonwealth.
“Youngkin’s entire campaign has been a full embrace of Donald Trump’s dangerous extremism: divisive culture wars, racist dogfights and bigotry,” McAuliffe accused on Monday, hours before the former attendee held a telerally for Youngkin, which the GOP nominee avoided as he held his own separate election meeting.
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The lack of a Trump-Youngkin event did not prevent McAuliffe from falsely claiming Monday night that the Republican candidate “is doing an event with Donald Trump here in Virginia.”
Trump’s approval of Youngkin in the spring helped the first-time candidate and former private equity chief win Virginia’s highly controversial GOP nomination. But Youngkins kept the former president at arm’s length during the parliamentary elections. Unlike McAuliffe, he has failed to campaign with top Republican surrogates, such as Trump.
“It just kills Trump that he’s not here, of course,” McAuliffe argued last week. “I think Trump is trying to play whatever happens, Trump will always demand the credit for himself, no matter what happens.”
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While it is dangerous to read too much into the results in Virginia, the state has a history of voting against the gubernatorial candidate from the party that won the White House the year before. McAuliffe broke that streak in 2013 when he won his first term as governor (Virginia law prevents governors from sitting for two consecutive terms) the year after Obama was re-elected president.
McAulife’s governor victory in 2013 did not herald the GOP’s red wave in the midterm period of 2014 when they recaptured the Senate. But former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell’s victory in Virginia in 2009 – a year after Obama conquered the White House – preceded the 2010 GOP tsunami when the party repeated Parliament. And current Gov. Ralph Northam’s victory in 2017 – a year after Trump won the presidency – beat the Democrats’ blue wave in the 2018 midterm, as they convincingly won the majority in the House of Representatives back.