This is a polite way of putting it. Republicans have been in a downward spiral since Virginia was blue for Barack Obama's 2008 election. This trend accelerated under President Donald Trump's presidency. Since 2009, the GOP has not won a state race in Virginia. This led to its legislative majority slipping away.
The long losing streak and Youngkin's high hopes have made Youngkin's race against Terry McAuliffe a crucial moment for the GOP. It is seen by some as the party's last chance to gain ground in an increasingly liberal state.
The problems that have decimated Republicans in Virginia are well-known far beyond Virginia. Either the party's hardline base has supported candidates that aren't appealing to the suburbs, or the mainstream candidates have given in to far-right views. It has also struggled with non-white voters to support the party.
However, this year the party has nominated a racially- and geographically diverse statewide party ticket. Republicans from all parties appear to have rallied behind Youngkin, a political novice who's proven to be a strong campaigner and appeals far beyond the far right. Youngkin appears to be benefiting from the disillusionment among Washington's Democrats. According to polls, the race, which is likely to be the most expensive ever for a governor in the state, appears to be a dead heat.
John Watkins was a former Republican state senator who served 34 years in the General Assembly. He said that Youngkin is a marked improvement on the "far-right" candidates nominated by the party in recent years.
Watkins stated that Youngkin is more likely to be competitive than one of the candidates. Corey Stewart lost a 2018 U.S. Senate election against Tim Kaine by 16 percent. Stewart, who was once the state chair for Trump's presidential campaign ran as an immigration hard-liner. He also advocated Confederate imagery and made sharp personal attacks on Kaine, which led to him being expelled by other GOP congressional candidates.
Youngkin was nominated for his party's nomination in May. He campaigned as a conservative Christian outsider, making "election integrity” a key issue. This allowed him to appeal to Trump voters that believed Trump's lie about the 2020 election being stolen. Then, he shifted to other issues and promised to cut taxes and help law enforcement. He also took advantage of conservatives' frustrations about schools regarding pandemic policy and race and diversity education.
His ads have tried to portray him as a friendly, suburban dad. Trump has supported him.
McAuliffe was in office from 2014-2018 and tried to argue that Youngkin is an extremist, who would reverse the Democrats' legislative achievements.
McAuliffe stated that Glenn Youngkin's campaign has been one of hatred, division, and fear since the day he entered this race." He spoke at a rally on Friday.
Two years after assuming full control of the state government, Democrats have made transformative changes in public policy: reforming the criminal justice and abortion restrictions, increasing voting access, legalizing cannabis, ending the death penalty, and expanding voter access.
This year's ballot also includes races for attorney general, lieutenant governor and all 100 House of Delegates seats, where Democrats hold a 55-45 majority. This year, the Democrat-controlled Senate has not been up.
Susan Swecker, chair of the Democratic Party, stated that Democrats are "all in" and that everything is at stake.
She said, "You're playing around in corners, and that's not where the people are in Virginia."
Republicans face demographic challenges, even if Youngkin is a perfect candidate. The party's rural Southern and Western strongholds are losing population. While the state is becoming more diverse in racial terms, Virginia's GOP remains overwhelmingly white. According to AP VoteCast (a survey of the electorate), 87% of Trump voters in Virginia were white in 2020.
Youngkin spoke out about the party's recent losses in an interview with The Associated Press, when he was asked why he decided to become a politician after a successful career in private equity.
He stated that he was unhappy with the direction Virginia was going under one-party control, and saw this year's election as an opportunity for Republicans to "a real challenge."
"You are familiar with the statistics. He said that he meant, "We haven't won any statewide elections since Bob McDonnell", referring to the 2009 governor's election.
The party headquarters is a good example of how Republicans and Democrats have performed in Virginia over the past few years.
The office of the Democrats is located in a chic downtown Richmond office building near the state Capitol.
Meanwhile, the Republicans have opened a small business about a mile from downtown. It is sandwiched between an deli and hair salon.
Shaun Kenney, an ex-executive director of the party, said that "the last four years have proven to be particularly demoralizing."
Ronna McDaniel, Chair of the Republican National Committee, disputed any suggestion that the state party was not in good shape. McDaniel stated that the party has been investing in the country, with 100 employees on the ground and 13 new offices for the election. She acknowledged, however, that Tuesday's victory would be a huge boost for state Republicans.
Paul Goldman, an ex-chair of the state Democratic Party, stated that the election will provide insight into how blue Virginia's electorate is. He said that McAuliffe will be able to defeat a "fresh" candidate who has "unlimited" funds. "Either Republicans have to change their game, or they will lose when the public is really against the Democrats."
McSweeney acknowledged that Youngkin's defeat on Tuesday would be a difficult road for his party.
"If Glenn doesn't win, it will be very difficult for him to win in the future." He said that people won't be as motivated to invest their time, energy and resources in it.