The best predictors of 2022 are not the polls we’ve seen. It’s the election in Virginia in November. Virginia is one of a handful of states that holds its election for legislature and council of state in odd numbered years. With governors limited to a single term, every four years is a major midterm election for our northern neighbor.
For the past decade, the state has been trending solidly blue. After the state seemed to be shifting Republican in the 1990s, Democrats won three of the past four gubernatorial contests. In 2009, Republican Bob McDonnell won, presaging the GOP wave a year later. Similarly, the 1994 wave that swept Newt Gingrich into power and gave Republicans control of the North Carolina House for the first time in a century was preceded by a 1993 GOP sweep in Virginia.
This year, the Governor’s race in Virginia has Democrats on edge. Terry McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2014 to 2018, is apparently in a tied race with Glenn Youngkin. Cook Political Report rated it a tossup and a recent poll showed Youngkin leading. Democrats who thought the state was relatively safe are now in a panic.
Like elections mid-terms in even years, the races in Virginia are influenced by the national environment. The Biden administration has suffered six weeks of rough headlines. The Afghanistan evacuation, the Haitians on the border, and the rise in COVID cases has dominated the news. On the political front, the party can’t seem to get it together to pass legislation Biden proposed last spring. Voters are impatient and ready for life to get back to normal.
In response, McAuliffe is trying to make the race about the pandemic and the GOP’s lack of a response. He’s supporting vaccine mandates and trying to push Youngkin into a tough position. The public generally supports Biden’s recent moves on requiring either a vaccine or testing. Youngkin’s position is that he is pro-vaccine but believes it should be a personal choice.
The race may end up like California’s recall election. After months of hearing dire predictions about the success of the effort to recall Governor Gavin Newsome, the effort went down to a crushing defeat. As of today, Newsome has received more votes than he did when he was originally elected. However, if Youngkin wins, or even gets within a couple of points, Democrats need to watch out next year.
Still, I’m not convinced the bad headlines and bad poll numbers are indicative of what will happen in the mid-terms. If the economy is recovering and we don’t see any spikes in COVID next spring, then Democrats will do okay, even if redistricting costs them the House. However, if inflation is rampant and wages are stagnant and hospitals are overwhelmed next spring or summer, Democrats will face a lashing.