Into Virginia

November 2, 2021 9:50 a.m.

Today is the day for those off-year elections which in addition to electing governors and mayors and various other officials are taken as harbingers of the political climate going into the following year’s midterm elections. Attention tends to focus on New Jersey and Virginia. Democrat Phil Murphy looks set to win handily in New Jersey. But Virginia, where incumbents can’t run for reelection, looks way too close to call. There are two governing patterns in Virginia. One is that it is an increasingly Democratic state. Joe Biden won it by 10 points and it went narrowly for Hillary Clinton in 2016 even as she lost Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The other pattern is that it tends to be won by the party not currently holding the presidency. The guy who broke that latter pattern, ironically, is none other than Terry McAuliffe, who won in 2013, a year after President Obama was reelected.

Now we see which of those patterns will hold.

Polls have appeared to trend in Glenn Youngkin’s direction for the last couple weeks, which has sent Democratic angst to the stratosphere. But the polls, in addition to being extremely tight on their face, are hard to interpret. There’s been a rush of polls showing one or two point margins for Youngkin. But the final week has also seen a rush of GOP sponsored or GOP aligned polls. The trend is mostly based on GOP polls. You can tell almost any story based on the available data.

One other assumption, inherently untestable, is that McAuliffe is being weighed down and may lose because of the on-going spectacle of Democratic squabbling and inability to pass legislation in Washington. That is my very strong assumption. But again, impossible to know with any certainty whether it’s accurate.

For the rest of us who don’t live in Virginia, the consequences of the race are not terribly great. But it will play a big, big role in shaping political conventional wisdom – especially if Youngkin wins. It’s more likely to be dismissed if McAuliffe does. (I don’t make the rules.)

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