Why Virginia Matters

With less than three weeks to go, Democrats are expressing anxiety over the Virginia gubernatorial race, concerned it could be a lead indicator for trouble in the 2022 midterm elections. Why?

Virginia’s gubernatorial races have been something of a bellwether in recent years. Coming one year into a presidential term, they’re seen as an early indicator of presidential popularity – and how the next year’s midterms might go. Virginia, solidly Republican from the late 1970s until about a decade ago, has been trending Democratic as population in its solid-blue north has grown. But recent elections for governor and U.S. senator have been close.

The Democratic nominee is Terry McAuliffe, who won a tight race in 2013 and served a single term. (Virginia, uniquely, does not permit governors to serve successive terms.) McAuliffe, a veteran of national Democratic politics who was close to the Clintons, was a relatively popular governor with a center-left agenda. He easily won the Democratic primary this year.

His GOP opponent is Glenn Youngkin, a businessman making his first run for public office. Though he expressed support for Donald Trump during his bid for the nomination, Youngkin was seen as one of the more moderate contenders. He has held Trump at arm’s length during the general election campaign, trying to please both Trump supporters and moderate Northern Virginia voters.

Until about a month ago, McAuliffe appeared on track to return to his old job by a fairly comfortable margin. But President Biden’s tanking approval ratings and rising economic concerns have hurt him. Where he once tried to tie himself to Biden, McAuliffe now says Biden is “unpopular” in Virginia and that Democrats cannot take the election for granted.

McAuliffe recently slammed national Democrats for failing to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill, a job-creator that McAuliffe thinks would help his campaign. If Youngkin wins on November 2, as Democrats increasingly fear, Washington inaction may be to blame.

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