Last updated on November 1, 2021
Since September 17, votes have been steadily flowing in for the November 2nd Virginian General Election. Along with New Jersey, Virginia is the only state to hold its statewide elections a year after the presidential election. As such, national media watches intensely every four years: this is the first real look at political tides after Biden’s inauguration. The latest census data shows that Virginia accounts for under 3% of the nation’s population. The impact of this election, however, will punch way above its weight class.
The two candidates for the governor seat of Virginia are Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin. Having been Governor of Virginia from 2014 to 2018, McAuliffe emphasizes his achievements in his previous term. His website notes achievements such as bringing “200,000 good-paying jobs to the Commonwealth, dr[iving] unemployment down, and rais[ing] personal income over 13%.” Relying on his wealth of political experience, McAuliffe is intent on reclaiming the seat as Governor from incumbent Democrat Ralph Northam.
On the other hand, is Glenn Youngkin, a former co-CEO and president of the Carlyle Group, a global investment firm. His strategy seems to focus on his real-world experience as a businessman that can help fix a struggling economy. Due to this strategy, Youngkin has been often compared to Trump by McAuliffe, but the comparison is not too far off in this aspect: Ballotpedia reports Youngkin describing McAuliffe as “a recycled, 40-year political insider and career politician who pretends to be a businessman.” Businessman running to bring real-world experience to a field chock full of rhetoric and false promises? Sounds like a familiar premise to me.
Ex-president Donald Trump Jr. has expressed support for Youngkin, but to distance himself from McAuliffe’s comparisons to Trump, Youngkin has tried to cut off ties with well-known Republicans. This is a stark contrast with McAuliffe’s avid campaigning with big Democrat names such as former President Barack Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris, and President Joe Biden.
The race between McAuliffe and Youngkin is neck-to-neck, with CNBC reporting an incredible amount of voter turnout. At least 1,137,656 voters (or about one-fifth of the state’s electorate) have submitted early ballots, a number nearly six times that of turnout in 2017. So far, Democrats have been leading the polls for the early votes, with McAuliffe urging Democrats to vote early. That being said, the race is not over, however, as Republicans have historically tended to vote early far less than Democrats in general (Forbes). McAuliffe seems to be ahead at the moment, but his victory is far from assured.
Although seemingly unimportant, there’s a reason that the elections in Virginia and New Jersey are getting such intensive media coverage: these elections are a sneak peek into the nation’s political mood after a year of Biden in office. Their effect is empirically significant. After Trump won in 2016, Democrats won governorships in both Virginia and New Jersey. Before that, in 2009, Virginia and New Jersey chose Republican governors. The trend can even be traced back to Bush, wherein 2001, Virginia chose a Democrat for governor. Even though it’s not foolproof, the party that wins in Virginia and New Jersey has a high chance of winning the next national election. In a way, these elections are like the nation looking back at its reflection in a mirror.