Joe Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan has sent his approval ratings down the toilet. His RealClearPolitics average approval is -4.2, and his FiveThirtyEight weighted average approval is -4.1. Things aren’t looking good for the Democrats with the midterm elections coming up next year. How bad will it be? It’s hard to say, but the upcoming gubernatorial election in Virginia might give us a clue.
Though technically a battleground state, Virginia hasn’t voted for a Republican for president since 2004 and hasn’t elected a Republican for governor since 2010. Terry McAuliffe, the former governor of Virginia, looking to win back his old position, previously held the lead in the polls against his Republican opponent, Glenn Youngkin, but not anymore. McAullife’s 6-point lead in early August has now turned into a tie in the latest poll from WPA Intelligence. When the third-party candidate is included, Youngkin leads 48 to 46.
The election is less than two months away.
“Head-to-head support for Glenn Youngkin has grown by three points while McAuliffe’s support has dropped by the same amount. The ballot has shifted by six-points since early August. The race is tied race heading into the home stretch,” according to the polling memo shared with Paul Bedard at the Washington Examiner.
The survey was conducted on behalf of the Youngkin campaign.
Biden’s approval ratings in the state appear to be linked to the shift; Biden had 53 percent approval in Virginia in early August, and now only 43 percent, going from +10 to -7 in a month.
A loss for McAulliffe would be embarrassing for Joe Biden, who campaigned for him in July. Biden won Virginia in November by ten points, and his inability to boost McAuliffe (especially if he returns before November) would indicate that Biden is more likely to drag candidates down rather than bring them across the finish line. This has real implications for battleground state elections where candidates in tough races might not welcome Biden’s presence. Such candidates that normally could use the power of the presidency to boost turnout in their favor might instead be begging Biden to stay away.
With Biden underwater in Virginia, it’s hard to say if McAuliffe will even ask Biden to come back.
While Biden might be toxic in Virginia, elsewhere, he is not. Biden will be going to California next week to campaign for Governor Newsom. Republican candidate Larry Elder thinks Biden’s visit will backfire.
“Most Americans don’t even believe he’s home — that somebody else is in charge. So it’s going to backfire. But let him bring it in,” Elder said last month. “Have him come in and try to defend Gavin Newsom’s record on crime, and on homelessness, and on the outrageous cost of living, and on the way he ignored science and shut down the state to the point where a third of small businesses are gone forever.”
While I’m doubtful Biden’s visit to California will backfire, Biden’s lingering unpopularity is bound to make his party pay a high price nationwide in 2022—and party donors and operatives are already preparing for a political bloodbath.
“When Biden was elected, it was supposed to be, ‘Oh, the adults are back in the room to take charge,’” one Democrat strategist told Politico. “It turns out, we can’t do anything. Any Democratic strategist who thinks this is not going to impact the midterms or impact Biden being reelected, clearly they don’t know what the f— they’re talking about.”
“None of the things that are rearing their heads as problematic issues were caused by Biden or his administration,” insists Doug Herman, a former Obama campaign strategist. “But people are upset, their kids are coming home from school with Covid quarantines, people are tired of their lives being disrupted, and at a certain point in time, there’s a political penalty to be paid, because if everybody’s angry, it’s not good for the incumbent party.”
Biden’s approval numbers are currently near where Clinton’s were at the same point in his presidency and worse than Obama’s. Both of them experienced historic losses in their first midterm elections. The midterms will be tough for the Democrats, but we can’t predict how much. But the gubernatorial election in Virginia might be the first real predictor of how 2022 might play out.