Democrats in Virginia are trying to avoid disaster in Virginia's governor's election -- the most competitive major electoral race since Trump's departure from the White House. This tight race has revealed the extent of the party's dependency on Trump as a motivator and message. With Washington headwinds and Trump not being top of mind, Democratic officials privately fear that they might lose the Virginia statewide election on Tuesday.
In recent weeks, public polling has been moving in the direction of Glenn Youngkin, a Republican newcomer, while Terry McAuliffe (Democratic ex-governor and close ally to President Joe Biden) has struggled with energize his base, as Biden's approval ratings fall. Republicans are now optimistic that they can win in a state Trump lost last year, despite being consumed by crisis and infighting.
Ronna McDaniel, Chair of Republican National Committee, stated that Virginia is a very blue and competitive state.
Democrats across the country would panic if they lost the Virginia governor's election, which has been regarded as a key indicator of midterm elections. Already, the party is worried about their chances of winning elections next year that will determine control of the House, Senate, and statehouses.
Jaime Harrison, the chair of Democratic National Committee, admitted that McAuliffe's defeat would be a "doomsday scenario". He argued, however, that McAuliffe's loss would be a "doomsday" scenario and that Virginia Democrats would win.
He said, "I'm no running around with my head on fire, not at the moment."
No matter what the outcome of the election, the race will still be scrutinized for clues as to what resonated with voters and what didn’t.
Trump's politics, which he left office nine months ago, are still complicated. McAuliffe's team believes that he is still very unpopular with the Democratic base, independents, and some moderate Republicans in Virginia. McAuliffe's team believes he is a motivator. Trump's invisibility, voter fatigue, and the lingering pandemic seem to have dulled anti-Trump sentiments, at least temporarily.
McAuliffe still spent the majority of his record-breaking fundraising haul warning voters his opponent, who was endorsed Trump, but kept his distance, was a "Trump wannabe." McAuliffe's final TV ads featured footage of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, which was led by Trump supporters who believed his lies about a "stolen" election.
Youngkin opened the door to those attacks by making "election integrity", the center of his campaign during the nomination contest. He declined to claim that Biden was legitimately elected until after McAuliffe locked up the nomination. Democratic U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, defending McAuliffe’s decision to raise the issue, said Youngkin had shown a "disqualifying shortage of leadership".
She said, "We cannot forget -- and I will never forget -- that there was an insurrection at the nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6, 2011." "Literally, police officers were attacked with American flags by people under the notion that the former president propagated a lie and people with loud voices, elected representatives, encouraged."
Trump dismissed McAuliffe’s anti-Trump strategy in an interview that was broadcast Saturday night on Fox News.
Trump stated, "I believe it backfires because I think that that gets the base out to vote," adding that Trump has supported Youngkin "strongly" and that "if my base doesn’t come out, he can’t win." My base must be very strong," I believe.
Youngkin, however, has not taken on the role of a Trump loyalist.
Youngkin used conservative frustrations over schools and pandemic policies to connect with his party's base. Youngkin has benefited from the activation of key suburbia networks of parent groups, many led by political professionals who have ties to Trump and the GOP. An ad featuring a mother, a GOP activist, was run by him. Eight years ago, he led an effort to ban Beloved from schools.
McAuliffe refers to it as a "racist dogs whistle," a claim Youngkin refutes.
The history is against Democrats who control both the legislative and executive branches of Virginia and Washington. The Virginia governor's race is almost always won by the party holding the White House. This has been a tradition. McAuliffe was the first to break this trend in 2013, after 40 years.
McAuliffe's team cites Biden's declining popularity which is close to Trump's at this stage in his presidency. The Democratic-led Congress is unable to fulfill its campaign promises, as negotiations for a huge climate change and social security net package drag on. The Democrats dropped the popular paid family leave proposal this week, disappointing many Virginia Democratic women, who are a crucial constituency.
Virginia Democrats say that they are exhausted, and not just disappointed.
"We've been on high alert for four years, having come out of COVID and being in lockdown. "I think people were just going about their lives and didn’t want to think of an election," stated Jennifer McClellan (state senator), who ran against McAuliffe in the Democratic nomination race.
Since 2004, the state has not been governed by a Republican presidential candidate. Census data shows that the state's Democratic-leaning north is growing while GOP strongholds are losing population.
Fairfax County, Virginia, which voted for Biden nearly 70%, has grown at a 6% pace to 1.15 million people in the past decade. It became a majority-minority County. Nearly all of the localities along Virginia's southern border and deep red Southwest Virginia lost their population.
These trends and a Democratic shift in suburban Republicans during Trump's era suggest that Democrats will win easily Tuesday if they can turn out their supporters. However, the Democrats did not see the expected surge in early voting, which ended Saturday.
Only a handful of people attended a McAuliffe vote-out event in the conservative southern part of the state, which was held earlier in the week at a church reception hall. Martinsville Vice Mayor Jennifer Bowles said that she hopes McAuliffe is elected, but she sees proof of Trump's strength in the area she lives.
It has not been diminished. Bowles stated that it actually feels stronger. It scares my soul."
According to a spokesperson for the state party, McAuliffe campaigned with Vice President Kamala Harris, and Pharrell Williams, drawing approximately 1,000 people.
McAuliffe attacked Youngkin and his supporters, telling them: "I cannot even tell you how crucial this election is. There are no clearer stakes. One side... conspiracy theorists. We have antivaxxers. And we have Donald Trump. They are all on the same side.
More than 1,000 people attended the rally in Warrenton, three hours north. It featured Youngkin and a few state legislators.
Youngkin stated to the crowd, "We have Terry on our run." Youngkin stated, "We're gonna sweep Republicans across the Commonwealth and make an impact that will be heard all around the globe."