Republicans have not won a statewide race in Virginia since 2009. A dozen years. They've had a few close calls along the way, but haven't pulled off a win since their romp within months of Barack Obama's presidential inauguration. But this year might be different. Public polls show Democrat Terry McAuliffe leading Republican Glenn Youngkin by a narrow margin, usually within the margin of error. A handful of surveys show the race tied, or Youngkin slightly ahead. What to believe? Could we have a 2013 scenario, in which McAuliffe's polling lead of six points substantially overstated his support (he won by 2.5 points)? What about a 2014 scenario, in which Democratic Sen. Mark Warner led his GOP challenger by ten points in the polling average, then ended up squeaking through by less than one percentage point? Or could we see what we saw last year in the Commonwealth, where Joe Biden was polling comfortably ahead of Donald Trump (+11 or so in October), which wound up being pretty close to the actual result (though still slightly exaggerating Democratic support)?
Finally, there's what happened in 2018, when Ralph Northam held a statistically insignificant polling lead against his GOP opponent heading into election day and the race was considered a toss-up. The real results broke hard against the Republicans, with Northam winning by nearly nine points, a major over-performance for the Democrat. In other words, over the last decade, statewide polling in Virginia has produced: A big miss in Republicans' favor, a big miss in Democrats' favor, a roughly bang-on outcome, and a few modest misses that predicted overly-generous Democratic victory margins. What must be giving both campaigns heartburn in this year's competitive gubernatorial contest is the lack of clarity on how the polling with shake out this time. Amid McAuliffe's pretty steady three-to-four point advantage in public surveys, the opposition party's internal numbers are looking much more bullish for Team Red:
NEW: @GlennYoungkin led @TerryMcAuliffe in internal #VAGOV polling for @GOPGovs conducted early this month. Republicans say #s look so good, they could be on verge of a total sweep. https://t.co/xgGjyxt1LI @dcexaminer— David M. Drucker (@DavidMDrucker) October 11, 2021
Republican Glenn Youngkin led Democrat Terry McAuliffe in an internal Republican Governors Association poll conducted early this month, putting the GOP on the precipice of winning a major statewide race in Virginia for the first time in a dozen years. Youngkin led McAuliffe, the former governor in search of a comeback, by a narrow 3 percentage points with a month to go in this key off-year campaign. But Youngkin was losing to McAuliffe by 11 points in RGA polling from May, and the trend line suggests to Republican operatives working the race that the GOP is on track to win the contests for lieutenant governor and attorney general and, possibly, to recapture the Virginia General Assembly...In the polling group’s early October poll of the Youngkin-McAuliffe race, the Republican nominee was hitting margins in key battlegrounds that, if they hold, will make it very difficult for his Democratic opponent to win statewide. Those margins included Youngkin at 43% in the Northern Virginia region that encompasses metro Washington and 53% in the Richmond suburbs of Chesterfield and Henrico counties. Additionally, Biden is underwater with independents statewide, with 61% of this key bloc holding an unfavorable view of the president.
As for the reliability of this polling outfit, Drucker reports, "the Republican pollster for the RGA in Virginia is On Message Inc. In 2020, the firm picked up on the tightening of the presidential race in Arizona, where Biden bested Trump by a paper-thin margin and proved more accurate than some of the public polling in Florida, where the former president won by 3.3 points." Early voting is underway in Virginia, ahead of a November 2 election. While conservatives may be eager to believe leaked GOP data, a word of caution: Parties that get high on their own supply can set themselves up for crushing disappointment. Romney 2012 comes to mind, as does Clinton 2016. Given Democrats' sweep of every statewide election in Virginia over 12 years, my attitude on potentially rosy survey results or excitement about "momentum" is a strong dose of healthy, "I'll believe it when I see it" skepticism. Meanwhile, McAuliffe is bringing in some big guns over the closing stretch of the campaign:
#VAGOV Inbox: “President Barack Obama to Campaign with Terry McAuliffe in Richmond”— Josh Kraushaar (@HotlineJosh) October 12, 2021
Some conservatives are crowing that this smacks of desperation, but these moves really just strike me as obvious, routine get-out-the-vote maneuvers. But where's POTUS? Unless Biden experiences a reversal of fortune in the next few weeks, there are whispers that McAuliffe will freeze the sitting president out of the campaign, viewing him as a liability:
Terry McAuliffe: Joe Biden "is unpopular today unfortunately here in Virginia." pic.twitter.com/QOMAWRBi2A— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) October 5, 2021
The Democrats want to tie Youngkin to Trump, Trump, Trump – but they don't want to speak the name Joe Biden. Quite a departure from McAuliffe's statement over the summer that he'd love to welcome Biden to Virginia "every week" for campaign events (update: McAuliffe insisted today that Biden will return on his behalf). I'll leave you with this thought: If the RGA polling proves approximately correct about Youngkin's standing in Northern Virginia's DC suburbs and the Richmond area, he will win the race – unless downstate Republicans don't show up in droves to help him run up the score. I'll leave you with Youngkin's campaign hitting McAuliffe for repeatedly misstating COVID statistics, including an insane lie about children in ICU beds. Will he get flagged for spreading misinformation?