The Virginia gubernatorial election next Tuesday has been getting a lot of attention as a potential bellwether for the 2022 midterms. Democratic former Gov. Terry McAuliffe has seen his lead over Republican Glenn Youngkin narrow as President Biden’s approval ratings have fallen.
But Democrats face another possible red alert a few hours up the road as well: the sleeper race for governor of New Jersey.
Incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy had been coasting to reelection, leading Republican Jack Ciattarelli by 26 points in May. Murphy’s lead is now just six points, and Politico says “there is a serious lack of enthusiasm among Democrats in the state.” Former President Obama parachuted into Newark on Saturday to try to shore up Murphy, and President Biden was in the same city on Monday.
It's still on the periphery of competitiveness, but we just got our first independent poll of #NJgov that's within the margin of error. Emerson has Murphy 52%, Ciattarelli 48% including leaners. https://t.co/t3kxLNtHxO
— Nathaniel Rakich (@baseballot) October 21, 2021
While Virginia has become a Democratic-leaning state in recent years, New Jersey has been solid blue for quite a while. The state last went Republican in a presidential race in 1988, and has not elected a Republican U.S. senator since 1972. However, two Republicans have been elected governor in recent years: Christine Todd Whitman in 1993 and Chris Christie in 2009 — both the first years for new Democratic presidents who saw their parties record massive midterm losses one year later.
Political experts say a McAuliffe defeat in Virginia is much more likely than a Murphy loss in New Jersey. A Virginia loss would be bad news for Biden. A Republican victory in New Jersey would be devastating for him.