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The Importance of Virginia’s Gubernatorial Race

The Virginia gubernatorial election is Nov. 2, and with less than two weeks to go, many people are closely following this tight race. 

The incumbent, Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, is ineligible to run for reelection because the Constitution of Virginia prohibits an officeholder from serving consecutive terms. As a result, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who was governor from 2014 to 2018, is running again against Republican Glenn Youngkin.

Kyle Kondik, an election analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, stated “There are a lot of indicators that this is a close race, and it fits the basic pattern of how Virginia gubernatorial races have performed in the past — the race often breaks against the White House,” meaning that the dominating party in the White House usually loses the gubernatorial election in Virginia. Kondik also stated that this race is an off-year election, which allows the non-presidential party to have an edge. In fact, polls show that the GOP is more fired up than the Democratic party.

McAuliffe had been ahead in the polls since the beginning of the race. However, his advantage has narrowed in the past couple of weeks. Youngkin has gained momentum because many undecided voters are siding with him. For example, Youngkin leads 48% to 39% in this month among independent voters, compared to a 46% to 39% lead for McAuliffe in September’s poll.

During the last couple of weeks, Youngkin has been focusing more on education, which could explain the tightening race since education is the second leading factor for Virginians as they decide their choice for governor.

If McAuliffe loses this race, it would boost expectations that Democrats are going to perform poorly in the 2022 midterm election, according to Ed Mills, a Washington policy analyst. This race is important because it is the only competitive big election this year, and in 2017, incumbent Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s victory was followed by the Democrats taking over the House in the 2018 midterms. As a result, Mills believes that whichever party wins the gubernatorial election will also take over the House in the 2022 midterm elections. 

Virginia was not a purple state or a swing state in the 2020 presidential election because Biden won by a comfortable margin. However, that does not make it a blue state because, in off-year elections, turnout decreases, and the comfortable margin Democrats had in the presidential election is tested. 

This gubernatorial election will be a test for both Democrats and Republicans. Whichever party gains control of the governor’s office of Virginia will be monumental for Virginia because not only do McAuliffe and Youngkin have different views on many issues, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and women’s rights, but the winner might also determine which party is favored in the 2022 midterm elections. 

Katherine (she/her) is a second-year student at American and is majoring in Political Science. Katherine loves to write about current events, relationships, and politics. She is currently living in Washington DC.
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