In the most closely watched political race of the season, Virginia gubernatorial hopeful Glenn Youngkin (R) has begun to close the gap against Terry McAuliffe (D). On November 2, residents of Old Dominion will cast their ballots to determine who will occupy the governor’s mansion. Despite an all-star cast of Democrats stumping for their man, the latest electoral polling is beginning to swing toward red.
Polling from Fox News gives Youngkin an eight-point edge over McAuliffe with just days to go; 53% to 45% among likely voters. Just one week ago, McAuliffe enjoyed a five-point margin over his competitor. Data taken among registered voters – a larger sample – gives Youngkin a single-point lead, which is a huge shift from last week, when he was behind by 11.
Democratic pollster Chris Anderson noted that the race was not yet over and that a shift could still come. He said of the Fox poll that, “With the race essentially tied among the full registered voter universe, McAuliffe could still pull this off … But it would take something big to ignite enthusiasm for McAuliffe’s candidacy and a massively effective get out the vote effort.”
A Shifting Trend?
One poll does not an election make; however, an aggregate of all polling collated by RealClearPolitics states that Youngkin now has an average lead of +0.4. From July through to early October, all polls bar one gave the likely win to McAuliffe. Since then, the propensity has been toward ties.
The betting markets have been following a similar trajectory to the pollsters. Initially, McAuliffe was the hard favorite to sweep the win, and although the Democrat still has more favorable odds, Youngkin has been closing the gap.
Foot, Meet Firearm
The gained ground for Youngkin might not be solely due to his aggressive campaigning and 50-stop bus tour. Depending on where the final tally falls, much of the blame could be laid squarely at the feet of McAuliffe’s recent tone-deaf moves.
The Democrat contender’s campaign spent $53,680 retaining the services of the Elias Law Group, founded by Marc Elias, who until recently was a partner with law firm Perkins Coie. Perkins Coie came to national recognition for its role in conducting opposition research for Hillary Clinton that resulted in the debunked Steele Dossier. Jonathan Turley, a prominent law professor at George Washington University, wrote that hiring Elias was an “astonishing move.” He continued:
“There are a host of election lawyers but McAuliffe selected an attorney accused of lying to the media, advancing rejected conspiracy theories, and currently involved in a major federal investigation that has already led to the indictment of his former partner.”
Turley concluded that “McAuliffe may be preparing to challenge any win by Republican Glenn Youngkin.”
When Fox News reached out to the McAuliffe campaign to ask whether Turley’s supposition was correct, McAuliffe spokesperson Christina Freundlich responded on an email thread asking – apparently looping in Fox by mistake – “Can we kill this?”
A Race-Based Campaign?
While stumping for McAuliffe, President Biden took Youngkin to task, accusing him of being an “extremist” and saying that extremism “can come in a smile and a fleece vest.” This sentiment has been echoed by ads from the Lincoln Project that suggest Youngkin’s focused opposition to Critical Race Theory is little more than coded racist language.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) ran with this particular torch, tweeting that “There’s a word @GlennYoungkin would really like to say to talk about black people, but he knows he can’t, so he codes it with ‘Critical Race Theory.'”
Significant Regardless of Outcome
Whichever candidate succeeds on November 2, the result will be significant. Should McAuliffe win by a large margin, the GOP will have to rethink its strategy heading into the 2022 congressional elections. If Youngkin either wins or comes close to seizing the brass ring, it will show that Joe Biden is more a liability than an asset to regional campaigners.
Regardless of the winner, this off-season gubernatorial election will shape politics for the next four years.
~ Read more from Mark Angelides.