Democrats in Virginia are beginning to panic. With just two weeks to go before the gubernatorial election, Bill and Hillary Clinton advisor and former governor of the state Terry McAuliffe finds himself in a dead heat with little-known Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin.
In truth, Youngkin has run a decent campaign, but he’s had a lot of help from McAuliffe himself. The former governor and experienced political hand has committed several unforced errors that will probably cost him the election.
“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” said McAuliffe during the last debate. And the new Monmouth Poll out on Wednesday shows how much the landscape has changed since the former governor uttered that bit of cluelessness.
In September, McAuliffe held a narrow lead of five points over Youngkin. More significantly, he led among independent voters by 46-37 and among women by double digits, 52-38.
The October poll shows Youngkin leading among indies by 48-39 and he’s closed the gap among female voters to just 47-43.
In his eagerness to genuflect to the teacher’s unions by talking tough to parents, McAuliffe may have handed the Republicans the first in a string of major victories that will culminate in a takeover of Congress.
Another reason for Democrats in the state to panic: reliable Democratic regions in the state aren’t giving McAuliffe the margins he needs to win statewide.
The poll also suggests geography’s at play – Youngkin increased his already enormous lead in western Virginia – the reddest part of the state – while McAuliffe’s large lead in heavily-blue Northern Virginia has slipped slightly. The new survey indicates that McAuliffe retains single digit advantages in the Tidewater and Richmond/I-95 areas of the commonwealth.
“Suburban women, especially in Northern Virginia, have been crucial to the sizable victories Democrats have enjoyed in the commonwealth since 2017. However, their support is not registering at the same level this time around. This is due partly to a shift in key issues important to these voters and partly to dampened enthusiasm among the party faithful,” Monmouth University Polling Institute director Patrick Murray said.
This is bad news not only for Virginia Democrats but also for Democrats nationally. The loss of the suburbs not only doomed Donald Trump in 2020 but badly hurt down-ballot Republicans as well. A GOP resurgence in the suburbs would make the Democrat’s task of keeping the House nearly insurmountable.
The poll points to a shift in voters priorities, with 45% saying jobs and the economy are the top issue, up from 39% in September. Education and schools – at 41% – is now the second most pressing issue, up ten points from last month. Combating COVID dropped to third place, at 23%, down 11 points from September.
McAuliffe’s panicky attacks on Youngkin, including referring to him as “anti-vax” for opposing vaccine mandates, will almost certainly backfire. Youngkin is not a fire-breathing extremist as McAuliffe is trying to portray him. And he’s on the right side of most issues that concern parents.
That gives him a distinct advantage going into the November 2 election.