It's been said that the Virginia gubernatorial race has been tightening in these final days, and it indeed has. In a Monmouth University poll released on Wednesday, the race is now tied between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin, with each candidate earning 46 percent support from registered voters. McAuliffe was up by 5 points in August and September. And the significant shifts don't stop there.
VIRGINIA POLL: #VAGov2021— MonmouthPoll (@MonmouthPoll) October 20, 2021
Registered voters: Even (D+5 in Sept & Aug)
Model A: R+3 (D+2-3 in Sept & Aug)
Model B: D+3 (D+7 in Sept & Aug)
45% Youngkinhttps://t.co/OMsesEGWbu pic.twitter.com/JOB1NS6fgN
One model shows McAuliffe going from a 7 point lead to a 3 point lead. Another takes the race from giving McAuliffe a 2-3 point lead to giving Youngkin a 3 point lead. As Brandon Jarvis with Virginia Scope underscores, these results mark the "first time the Republican has held a lead in Monmouth polls this cycle."
“This is the first time the Republican has held a lead in Monmouth polls this cycle.” pic.twitter.com/0kU636fMld— Brandon Jarvis (@Jaaavis) October 20, 2021
There are still more significant findings, including how McAuliffe's lead has shrunk in other ways.
In a write-up Paul Steinhauser did of the poll for Fox News, he notes [emphasis added]:
The new poll indicates that a surge in support among independents for Youngkin is a major factor in the GOP nominee drawing even with McAuliffe. Youngkin tops McAuliffe 48%-39% among independents, compared to a 46%-37% lead for the former governor in Monmouth’s September poll.
Also boosting Youngkin is a rise in support among female voters, the poll indicates. McAuliffe’s 52%-38% lead among women in September shrunk to 47%-43% in the latest survey.
The poll also suggests geography’s at play – Youngkin increased his already enormous lead in western Virginia – the reddest part of the state – while McAuliffe’s large lead in heavily-blue Northern Virginia has slipped slightly. The new survey indicates that McAuliffe retains single digit advantages in the Tidewater and Richmond/I-95 areas of the commonwealth.
Steinhauser also includes a statement from the polling institute's director, Patrick Murray. "Suburban women, especially in Northern Virginia, have been crucial to the sizable victories Democrats have enjoyed in the commonwealth since 2017. However, their support is not registering at the same level this time around. This is due partly to a shift in key issues important to these voters and partly to dampened enthusiasm among the party faithful," Murray had said.
While 49 percent of Republican voters are "enthusiastic," according to the poll's October results, just 26 percent of Democratic voters are.
Reporting from various outlets and concessions from McAuliffe himself acknowledges that Democrats are facing an enthusiasm issue.
National Democrats – or those from Georgia in the instance of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams – have recently campaigned and will continue to campaign for McAuliffe, though attendance to these high-profile events may leave something to be desired.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday night, Youngkin held an event in Burke with Jason Miyares and Winsome Sears, the Republican candidates for attorney general and lieutenant governor, respectively. The event, which drew a large overflow crowd, had hundreds in attendance.
At the event, Youngkin announced that he is calling on an investigation into the Loudoun County School Board after a biological male in a skirt allegedly raped two different victims.
Youngkin has repeatedly emphasized that he is not looking for outside help in Virginia because Glenn Youngkin is the one campaigning for Glenn Youngkin.
There's also a shift in priorities, Steinhauser noted:
The poll also suggests a shift in voters priorities, with 45% saying jobs and the economy are the top issue, up from 39% in September. Education and schools – at 41% - is now the second most pressing issue, up ten points from last month. Combating COVID dropped to third place, at 23%, down 11 points from September.
The new survey indicates that Youngkin – who’s made defending the right of parents when dealing with their children’s education the closing theme of his campaign – has drawn even with McAuliffe on being trusted to handle education and schools. And the poll points to Youngkin now holding a slight edge over McAuliffe on trust on jobs and the economy.
Weeks prior, in the second debate, McAuliffe stated, "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach." It was just a few days ago, though, when McAuliffe released an ad claiming that Youngkin took his words out of context. Youngkin counteracted by showing proof of how McAuliffe had previously stood by them.
A Tuesday analysis from CNN's Chris Cillizza underscores just how bad this response looks for McAuliffe:
It's Politics 101: You don't give oxygen to an attack from your opponent unless that attack is working and you feel the need to say something to try to fix the problem.
Why does all of this matter? Because the Virginia governor's race is being closely examined by both national parties for clues as to how to run and win in 2022 and beyond.
But McAuliffe's decision to launch ads responding to the Youngkin attacks on education are a worrisome sign for Democrats hoping to keep the governor's mansion in their hands. You never want to be the one responding to attacks this close to an election.
If Youngkin wins, Republicans will likely conclude that campaigns centered around the Democrats' embrace of wokeness -- in the classroom and out in the world -- are the key to success in a (for now) post-Trump political world.
Additonally, the poll shows that Youngkin's favorable ratings have gone up and his unfavorable ratings have gone down, while it's the opposite for McAuliffe.
VIRGINIA VOTER POLL: #VAGov2021 candidate ratings@TerryMcAuliffe (D)— MonmouthPoll (@MonmouthPoll) October 20, 2021
39% favorable (40% in Sept.)
39% unfavorable (33%)
23% no opinion (27%)@GlennYoungkin (R)
41% favorable (40%)
29% unfavorable (31%)
29% no opinion (28%)https://t.co/OMsesEGWbu
Biden's approval ratigns are underwater in Virginia, and by almost double digits.
VIRGINIA VOTER POLL: Job Ratings@POTUS @JoeBiden— MonmouthPoll (@MonmouthPoll) October 20, 2021
43% Approve (46% in August)
52% Disapprove (49%)@GovernorVA Northam
46% Approve (48%)
42% Disapprove (42%)https://t.co/OMsesEGWbu
This poll was conducted October 16-19 with 1,005 registered Virginia voters and a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
McAuliffe has led Youngkin in almost all polls leading up to this point, though many showed the Democrat's lead within the margin of error.
A poll last month from the University of Mary Washington showed Youngkin leading 43 to 38 percent among likely voters.
And a Trafalgar poll released earlier this month showed Youngkin with a razor-thin lead over McAuliffe by 48.4 to 47.5 percent.
McAuliffe's lead over Youngkin in the RealClearPolitics average for October 1-October 19 is now down to 1.8 percent.
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