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4 Things to know about Virginia’s Upcoming Election

Virginia voters are heading to the polls today. Several races are taking place including the race for governor and for lieutenant governor, attorney general, all 100 seats in the House of Delegates and some local races.

The governor’s race will be tight between Republican Glenn Youngkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who previously held the post from 2014-2018.

In the lieutenant governor’s race, Democrat Hala Ayala runs against Republican candidate Winsome Sears. The winner will become Virginia’s first woman lieutenant governor and the first woman of color to hold statewide office.

Here’s what else you should know about today’s election.

The governor’s race is extremely tight, and it’s being closely watched

One of only two states to hold statewide elections the year after a presidential election, Virginia is seen as a litmus test for a president’s administration — particularly in their first year in office. Many analysts believe this year’s election will be an indicator of whether Democrats will be able to maintain control of Congress in next year’s midterms.

The gubernatorial race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin will mark the first high-profile electoral battle since the 2020 presidential election. McAuliffe, who won a tight election in 2013 following President Barack Obama’s second-term victory, is facing razor-thin margins against Youngkin.

Most of the latest polls show them neck and neck, though Fox News has Youngkin up by 8 points. That poll remains an outlier, according to the Post.

Democrats swept control of the General Assembly in 2019, marking an historic blue wave in the commonwealth and giving the party power in the legislature and governor’s mansion. Now, they are fighting to hang on to both the governorship and the House of Delegates. High-profile party leadership — think Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris, and President Joe Biden — have made their pitch to Virginians.

Meanwhile, Republicans have been testing messaging and approaches to winning in a post-Donald Trump world. While Youngkin — an extremely wealthy venture capitalist — seemed cut from the same Brooks Brothers cloth as Mitt Romney, he’s taken a hard tack on cultural issues.

“To his Republican supporters, whether or not it’s an act isn’t really the point,” the New York Times recently explained in a story outlining Youngkin’s upward trajectory in the race. “As long as Mr. Youngkin is saying what they want to hear and signaling what they understand he cannot say out loud — running on the issue of ‘election integrity,’ for instance, rather than wholeheartedly accepting Mr. Trump’s lies about election fraud in 2020 — many conservatives see his campaign as providing a template for how to delicately embrace Trumpism in blue states.”

In years past, the unpopularity of the current president – whether it was Bill Clinton or Donald Trump – has hurt his party’s gubernatorial nominee in Virginia.

A Referendum on the Biden administration

This week, Democrats will be looking to see if, or how much, Biden’s negative ratings hurt McAuliffe. In an NBC News poll released Sunday, only 42% of adults said they approved of Biden’s job performance, down 7 percentage points from August.

During a virtual rally with supporters last month, McAuliffe told backers that “we are facing a lot of headwinds from Washington, as you know. The President is unpopular today unfortunately here in Virginia, so we got to plow through.”

McAuliffe later downplayed his comments about the president, telling CNN that “it’s not dragging me down.”

Still, McAuliffe has urged fellow Democrats in Washington to pass major infrastructure and economic legislationto prove to Virginia voters that Democrats can get things done.

As they seek to win control of Congress, Republicans next year are expected to use Biden to bash congressional Democrats – a strategy they will amp up if Youngkin defeats McAuliffe on Tuesday.

“If McAuliffe loses, people will attempt to pin it on Biden,” pollster Frank Luntz said. “And they will have some justification.”

Jatia Wrighten, an assistant professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, said mid-term elections like the ones next year are often “a check on the president’s power. It is common for a president’s party to lose seats.”

Culture wars: COVID, schools, abortion

Elections are often decided by issues of the moment. In the Virginia race, political analysts are looking to assess the impact of cultural disputes that are roiling the nation, including abortion, education policies and COVID vaccines.

McAuliffe has hit Youngkin repeatedly over his opposition to government mandates that people be vaccinated against COVID-19, saying the Republican’s position puts lives at risk.

Youngkin has said individuals should be allowed to make their own decisions about COVID. That includes parents making choices for their children, one of the flashpoints of fervent disputes with school boards in Virginia.

The Republican candidate has taken up a number pf parental protests against school boards over items ranging from mask mandates to trans students to the teaching of race in schools. 

“Education is what Youngkin has been banking on the final weeks here,” Taylor said, an issue aimed at “suburbs and exurbs where Republicans lost ground in the Trump years.”

The Virginia race will also say something about abortion, an issue likely to be big in gubernatorial races in places like Florida, Texas, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

As the Supreme Court considers cases on the constitutionality of state laws that effectively ban most abortions, McAuliffe has said Youngkin plans to pursue a similar law in Virginia.

During the campaign, Youngkin was caught on tape telling a supporter that he and a Republican legislator could “go on offense” against abortion, but he didn’t want to discuss the topic on the campaign trail because it “won’t win my independent votes that I have to get.”

McAuliffe has said Youngkin is using racist and sexist dog whistles to appeal to Trump voters. “I’m just tired of him running everything down,” McAuliffe said on NBC’s Meet The Press, adding: “I’m a unifier. He’s a divider.”

In an interview last week on Fox News, Youngkin said: “This race is about our kids’ future, about Virginia’s future, and Terry McAuliffe doesn’t want to talk about it.” He later added: “And the entire nation is watching this.”

The Power of Black Voters

Strong support from Black voters is a major reason Virginia has trended Democratic in recent elections and will be a major factor in the current race.

“We have seen historically that the Black vote – especially in Virginia – makes the difference in who wins,” Wrighten said. “The Democrats know that.”

Campaign officials in 2022, and beyond, will study the effectiveness of McAuliffe’s get-out-the-Black-vote project.  

The strategy has included targeted television ads, radio spots, social media posts, voter registration drives at Black colleges and event featuring high-profile Black leaders like former President Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris.

The Virginia election will also have something to say about the viability of Black candidates in a most white electorate: Democrat Hala Ayala and Republican Winsome Sears are trying to become the first woman of color to win election to the lieutenant governor post.

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