Glenn Youngkin’s tightrope walk between suburban moderates and hard-right Republicans seems to be paying off — on Friday the Cook Political Report (CPR) announced a rating shift in the gubernatorial contest from Lean Democratic to Toss Up. That matches with polling from a variety of sources that show an increasingly close race.
“We can no longer say this is a contest where the Democrat has the advantage. While many of the fundamentals favor [Terry] McAuliffe — and we expect he still has a slight edge — it’s Youngkin who seems to have the enthusiasm on his side,” CPR reported. “He’s far more Bob McDonnell than Ken Cuccinelli, but Democrats hope he’ll be more of an Ed Gillespie ultimately — a more establishment-type Republican who was forced into more conservative positions and tied to Trump as his undoing. This is why while we may put a pinkie on the scale for McAuliffe — and it’s far easier for Democrats in a state like Virginia to get the final few points they need than Republicans — the race is nonetheless close enough in our range to shift its rating.”
Virginia’s population has shifted increasingly blue, with population growth in urban areas and losses in rural areas, and Democrats have had increasingly common wins in recent years.
However, Virginia’s gubernatorial races are held the year after presidential races. That often tends to swing the gubernatorial race the opposite direction of the presidential election.
“I think Glenn Youngkin’s going to win it,” Delegate Terry Kilgore (R-Wise) said. “I think there’s a lot of independents out there, a lot of even independent-thinking Democrats that are going to give this race to Glenn Youngkin.”
Kilgore said voters have had time to get tired of President Joe Biden, as shown by a recent drop in his approval rating. On top of that, Democrats have controlled Virginia’s legislature, the governor’s mansion, and the attorney general seat for two years, during which they moved Virginia leftward on key issues. Virginians are also still dealing with a pandemic, along with the results of school closures and an economic downturn.
Youngkin is aiming at suburban voters with calls for improving Virginia’s economy, increasing police funding, and improving Virginia’s schools.
Republicans have been hopeful for months to retake the governor’s seat, but to do that Youngkin needs to retain the conservative base that former President Trump energized while attracting moderates who Trump alienated.
That dance is illustrated in several key issues. Youngkin has called for election integrity in Virginia but has said he doesn’t believe that there’s been significant fraud in Virginia’s past elections. He has encouraged Virginians to get the COVID-19 vaccine but doesn’t support mandates. And he’s said he would support legislation banning abortions after the fetus can feel pain but has said he wouldn’t support a Texas-style ban.
McAuliffe has repeatedly emphasized Youngkin’s connections to Trump, in the hopes of turning off those moderates. Trump has endorsed Youngkin, and on Thursday, he called for Youngkin to stop distancing himself from conservative Republicans.
On The John Fredericks Show, Fredericks asked Trump, “You think Glenn Youngkin can beat Terry McAuliffe, sir, in Virginia?”
“I do, but you know what I find? And he’s been very nice and all, but I did well in Virginia,” Trump replied. “The only guys that win are the guys that embrace the MAGA movement. When they try to go down a railroad track, you know, ‘Hey, oh yeah, sure, I love him, love him, oh yeah, love Trump, love Trump, okay, let’s go, next subject,’ when they do that, they never win.”
Trump pointed to the recent California recall election where the Republican candidate Larry Elder seemed to have a chance before voters ultimately chose to keep Governor Gavin Newsom.
Trump said Elder made a mistake by not saying the 2020 elections were rigged or fraudulent, although he said Elder later said differently.
Trump said, “When [Elder] said, ‘Well no, I don’t think so,’ the first time, that was the end of his election.”
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John Fredericks is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Virginia Star.
He is also a Trump 2020 delegate and the chairman of the Trump Virginia Delegation.