Virginia Governors’ Race Today; McAuliffe, Youngkin Neck and Neck

November 2, 2021 Topic: Governors Blog Brand: Politics Tags: VirginiaJoe BidenTerry McauliffeEducationGovernors

Virginia Governors’ Race Today; McAuliffe, Youngkin Neck and Neck

The governor’s race has drawn national attention and is being viewed as an early referendum on the job performance of President Joe Biden.

Terry McAuliffe, the former Virginia governor and current candidate for the office, and his insurgent challenger, former hedge fund manager Glenn Youngkin, remain virtually tied in the polls, throwing into question the outcome of one of the first high-profile midterm races in the Biden presidency.

The governor’s race has drawn national attention, and is being viewed as an early referendum on the job performance of President Joe Biden, who came into office with a high approval rating, but saw it fall precipitously after the disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Democratic infighting on Capitol Hill, and re-emergence of hot-button social and cultural issues during the summer and fall. 

Virginia, once a reliably Republican state, has gradually turned Democratic as the northern suburbs around Washington, DC have expanded. The state voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who lost the 2016 presidential race to President Donald Trump, nonetheless won Virginia by five percentage points. In November 2020, Biden defeated Trump there by a margin of ten percentage points.

With this context, the failure to secure Virginia would represent a major embarrassment for Biden and a sign that Americans have begun to strongly disapprove of him. Some commentators have suggested that, by openly touting the president’s (and, controversially, his surrogates’) support, McAuliffe tied his political fate to Virginians’ approval or disapproval of Biden. Youngkin has conspicuously avoided doing the same with Trump; his campaign has largely avoided mention of the highly unpopular former president and has focused instead on McAuliffe’s controversial statements and gaffes. 

Unusually, education policy has taken center stage in the race. McAuliffe has been attacked for suggesting that parents should have minimal input on what their children are taught in schools—a statement made in relation to school board meetings disrupted by unruly parents, but perceived as an attack on opposition to the controversial subject of “critical race theory.” McAuliffe has argued that critical race theory is a distraction from real issues and is not taught in Virginia schools, although conservative journalists and activists have highlighted mentions of it on the Virginia Department of Education’s website.

As a result of this campaigning, Youngkin has steadily narrowed the former governor’s lead in the polls. According to poll aggregator FiveThirtyEight, Youngkin passed McAuliffe on October 28; as of November 1, the site suggested that Youngkin would receive roughly forty-eight percent of the vote and McAuliffe roughly forty-seven percent.

Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.

Image: Reuters