Why Virginia’s Gubernatorial Election Matters
As we approach the final week of Virginia’s election for governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin contend in a neck-and-neck contest in an off-year midterm. More than that, though, it provides Democrats and Republicans with hard election data to evaluate Joe Biden’s performance thus far.
According to FiveThirtyEight, Republican Glenn Youngkin holds a slim lead over Democrat Terry McAuliffe. As the primary race of national importance in 2021, it has drawn attention from a number of significant figures, including President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Youngkin based his primary bid on “election integrity” and wouldn’t acknowledge that Joe Biden was legitimately elected until after his nomination. It has drawn parallels from his campaign to Trump’s, which McAuliffe seized on, calling him a “Trump wannabe.”
Although Virginia has trended heavily towards Democrats in recent years, seeing that Joe Biden carried the state by about ten points last year, its local elections are often contentious. In fact, since the 1970s, every winner of Virginia’s gubernatorial election (with the exception of McAuliffe’s election in 2013) has been the opposite party of the winner of the previous year’s presidential election; this year may or may not be different.
A Measurement of Joe Biden’s Performance
It’s no secret: Joe Biden is falling into the typical first-year slump. His approval rating has fallen to just over forty percent, and it continues to decline. However, Virginia gives Joe Biden a chance to rectify that situation.
For a state that hasn’t voted for the Republican nominee for President since 2004, Virginia isn’t Republican-friendly in the slightest. Both of its senators are Democrats, its house delegation heavily leans Democratic, and it has been passing liberal policies since 2010. But this race is different.
What’s more significant, however, is the absence of Donald Trump in the race. Democrats, over the past five or so years, have been united in the fight against Trump. While the Democratic candidates running in contentious elections may try to align their bases against a Trump-like opponent, McAuliffe specifically seems to be failing to energize his voters. That’s concerning for Democrats on a national level.
In other words, while Democrats have succeeded in the past, former Governor McAuliffe is struggling to pick up steam with voters. His narrative that his opponent aligns with Trump, although in a state where Trump pulls horrible numbers, doesn’t hold well with the vast majority of Virginians. In order to win, he’ll have to find another way to energize his voters in a very short amount of time, something Joe Biden’s performance hasn’t yet encouraged.
What It Means for the 2022 Midterms
Virginia’s gubernatorial election, as the first nationally significant election since Trump was ousted from office, serves as a bellwether for next year’s midterms. While it is true that there is about a year until those elections, Democrats chances rest on Joe Biden’s reception thus far. And it isn’t looking bright.
If Democrats lose on Tuesday, it’ll likely send Democratic strategists into panic mode. With primaries for next year slowly dawning, they’re looking at their senatorial prospects in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, among others. Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress have failed to deliver on campaign promises like massive climate change legislation and social safety. As the party in power, slowly losing popularity, it seems that their chances aren’t bright.
Further, if Republicans win this, it’ll position them well to block liberal legislation that would have otherwise passed; however, it will more likely lead to partisan gridlock, given that Virginia’s two houses of Congress are still predicted to stay in the Blue column.
Even if Democrats win, it’s not a significant one: they hold the advantage in Virginia, and simply holding that is no accomplishment. In any case, Republicans are putting up a strong fight in Virginia, and if they win, it’s not looking good for Democrats down the line.