Tuesday’s gubernatorial race in Virginia, which pits former Gov. and Democratic Party nominee Terry McAuliffe against incumbent Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin, is irresistible bait for those suffering from the forecast error.
There are typically not many big races in the low-years, and this could be a bell for next year’s midterm terms, which will determine whether Democrats stick to both houses of Congress in the last two years of President Joe Biden’s term. Expect to hear a lot about this race Tuesday night and in the days after.
Right now, if you believe pollsters, the Virginia race is a dead race. It should not be in this tense national political environment. That’s what makes it so interesting. Biden won the Commonwealth by 10 points in November last year – Democrats have won Virginia in every presidential election since 2008 – and the party controls every branch of the state government in Old Dominion. How is a seasoned political pro like McAuliffe behind in some polls?
There are obviously many things – McAulife’s dull campaign vs. Youngkins smart; Biden’s shaky agenda (on the heels of an optically catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan); inflation, especially at gas pumps; unpopular COVID-19 mandates; and cultural struggles about what is taught in schools, among others. But it may also be something overall, and that is what has this observer the most interest.
It seems that maybe – just maybe – the natural political pendulum is starting to swing again in the US, which would be welcome news for Republicans in blue states like New York, who have been beaten in the ballot box for the past five years. That would mean a certain normality returns to American politics after half a decade of talking about one man. Actual problems may be in play again, and on questions Republicans may win.
The political pendulum typically swings after a party dominates a national election. Activists on the winning side are taking a breather – many of their leaders are in government – while opposition to the ruling party is growing organically. Promises given before the election never quite strike out, and swinging voters start thinking about securing their efforts the next time they are in the ballot box.
We have seen the same cycle at the national level for generations. Foam, rinse, repeat.
But former President Donald Trump threatened to disrupt the sink. He is so divisive that Democrats only needed to whisper his name in recent years to torpedo state and local GOP candidates in blue states. The suburbs in particular have been a killing field. Their highly motivated anti-Trump voters apparently erased New York’s Republican majority from one day to the next.
Virginia was transformed from a deep red state to a reliable blue state as a direct result of its rapid suburban growth in recent decades, especially along its northern border with Washington, DC (The region is often referred to as NOVA, and not always friendly.) If Youngkin winning, or even running close, could mean that highly educated suburban voters are in play again into 2022, or at the very least, that they have lost some of their anti-GOP zeal. Both would be a big deal, especially since McAuliffe has spent most of his resources trying to bind Youngkin to Trump, while Trump has also tried to bind himself to the popular Virginia Republican.
Youngkin rejected both efforts, and that could create a roadmap for graduates here next year.
American politics can finally move on.
Opinions expressed by William FB O’Reilly, a Republican consultant, are his own.