Virginia Race Offers Hint of 2022 Fight to Control Congress
(Bloomberg) -- Virginia’s gubernatorial contest Tuesday between Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin will offer the clearest picture yet of how much momentum Republicans have heading into 2022 elections that will decide control of Congress, while President Joe Biden struggles to advance his agenda in Washington.
Polls show the Virginia race essentially deadlocked as Democrat McAuliffe’s lead during the summer evaporated along with Biden’s approval ratings. In the final weeks of the campaign, Republican Youngkin, the former co-chief executive officer of the Carlyle Group Inc., has capitalized on voter frustration with national Democrats and local education issues.
The election comes a day after Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, slammed the door on Biden’s wish for Congress to take quick action on his $1.75 trillion tax and spending package, the centerpiece of his presidential campaign. Virginia, a state Biden won by 10 percentage points a year ago, is a bellwether for the Congressional midterms. A McAuliffe loss would be the biggest omen for Democratic prospects to hold onto their slim majority in Congress.
Longtime Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson said that Virginia is often an “early-warning system” for the party in power as to how it will do in the midterms, especially because of the diversity of the state, which includes rural, suburban and urban areas; military, farming and technology workers; and White, Hispanic and Black voters.
“Virginia allows you for a dry run of the arguments you’re going to make in the midterms, to see how different parts of the electorate respond,” Ferguson said.
Democrats narrowly control the House, and the Senate only with Vice President Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote. History shows that the party that has control of the White House typically loses seats in Congress.
Virginia also tends to punish the president’s party. In the last 12 Virginia gubernatorial elections, the president’s party has won only once: when McAuliffe was first elected in 2013. Virginia governors cannot serve back-to-back terms but can run again.
The Virginia election is one of several taking place across the country Tuesday. In New York City’s mayoral race, Eric Adams, a Democrat and the Brooklyn borough president, is heavily favored against Republican Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels anti-crime group. In Seattle, Lorena Gonzalez faces Bruce Harrell in the city’s mayoral race. And in Boston, polls show Michelle Wu with a wide lead over Annissa Essaibi George. No matter who wins, the city will have its first female mayor of color.
In New Jersey, incumbent Democrat Governor Phil Murphy faces Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli. While polls show Murphy well ahead, both political parties are also looking to the Garden State for clues to be gleaned for 2022.
Biden waded into a special congressional election in Ohio on Monday, backing Democrat Allison Russo over Mike Carey, a Republican endorsed by former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence, in a district that favors Republicans.
Yet it’s the Virginia gubernatorial race that has the highest stakes for Biden.
Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, linked the failure to pass Biden’s infrastructure plan, known as the bipartisan infrastructure framework, or BIF, with the tight race between McAuliffe and Youngkin.
“Senator Manchin — I don’t always agree with him but I think he’s been fairly consistent. I think if we passed BIF back in September we’d be probably done with reconciliation by now and we’d be in a better place in Virginia,” Warner said. “Clearly showing we can make progress would have been nice.”
Youngkin’s strategy is to keep Trump voters and peel off some independents who backed Biden. McAuliffe took advantage of the state’s new, 45-day early voting period, among the longest in the country, to bring in party heavyweights including Biden, Harris, former President Barack Obama and other big names to stoke turnout, particularly among Black and suburban voters.
Youngkin, also targeted early voters with a series of small events outside polling places, although Republicans remain more skeptical of early voting in part because of Trump’s repeated attacks on the practice.
The Youngkin campaign said it’s confident that he’s in a good position heading into Election Day, when it expects heavy turnout among Republicans.
“We are incredibly encouraged and excited by the early voting numbers,” said spokeswoman Macaulay Porter.
The McAuliffe campaign said that it, too, saw good signs in the final days of early voting.
“In the final seven days, we saw over 475,000 people turn out early driven by strong numbers in places like Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria and Loudoun,” said spokeswoman Christina Freundlich.
McAuliffe repeatedly sought to tie Youngkin to Trump, but also ran on a slate of positions that largely reflect Biden’s, including paid family leave, clean energy and an increase in the state’s minimum wage. The president’s stalled agenda and sour approval ratings may scare moderate Democrats from aligning themselves too closely with Biden during next year’s mid-term campaigns.
Youngkin embraced Trump in more rural parts of the state, while keeping the former president at arm’s length. The Republican highlighted both hot-button issues like mask mandates and critical race theory with moderate ideas like cutting a grocery tax.
On Monday evening, Trump held a tele-rally for Youngkin, that the candidate didn’t attend. On the roughly 10-minute call the former president urged his supporters to vote for Youngkin, saying “our relationship is great” and “this is your chance to break the grip the radical left has over the commonwealth.”
Last week, Trump teased the possibility of holding a rally for Youngkin. McAuliffe and Democrats tried to pounce, further tying the two together. At a rally Monday, McAuliffe falsely claimed that Youngkin participated in the rally with Trump, according to Politico.
Youngkin held a rally Monday night in Loudoun County, a Washington suburb, where he spoke to a crowd of several thousand people, arguing that parents should have more control over their children’s education.
1.1 Million Votes Already
As of Saturday, 1.1 million Virginians had already cast ballots, more than five times the number who voted early in the last gubernatorial election, signaling a McAuliffe advantage since Democrats are more comfortable voting in that manner.
Yet polls show Virginia Republicans are enthusiastic this year, with most still preferring to vote on Election Day. A strong showing on Tuesday for Youngkin could more than offset early votes for McAuliffe.
The high stakes sparked fundraising for both candidates and made this year’s contest the state’s most expensive yet, according to the nonpartisan, nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project.
A former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Governor’s Association, McAuliffe raised $57.1 million for the race. But Youngkin had $57.7 million to spend, thanks in part to a $20 million personal loan to his campaign.
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