A Diminished Governor Could Be a Political Liability for Virginia Democrats

Virginians appear to be a forgiving lot. A clutch of fresh polling data, from Quinnipiac University and Ipsos/UVA Center for Politics, shows folks don’t think Gov. Ralph Northam (D) should resign or be impeached for wearing blackface back in the 1980s.

Does that mean his ersatz rope-a-dope strategy is working? Maybe — for now. But even as Virginians appear willing to allow Northam to hang around — be it through a sense of forgiveness or exhaustion — that doesn’t mean he’s on the road to political rehabilitation.

If anything, Northam is being tolerated because there is no viable alternative waiting to take his place.

That ought to worry Northam, who hopes to run out the clock on his scandal, and his fellow Democrats, who hope to take control of the General Assembly in November.

On the big issue — whether he should leave office now — 48 percent of respondents in the Quinnipiac poll said Northam should not resign, as did 43 percent in the Ipsos/Center for Politics poll.

Not great numbers, but not terrible, either. Except when we put them in a bit of historical context.

Back in 2013, when then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) faced the possibility of a federal indictment on corruption charges, a Quinnipiac poll conducted in late July showed McDonnell’s favorability rating stood at 46 percent. Had the scandal hurt? Yes. A May Washington Post poll showed McDonnell’s approval numbers in the low 60s.

But Quinnipiac found just 16 percent Virginians thought McDonnell should resign. Sixty-one percent said he should stay in office.

The public didn’t believe either man had handled his respective scandal very well. But even here, McDonnell, who faced real legal peril, fared much better than Northam does today.

The Quinnipiac numbers from 2013 showed 41 percent of respondents were “not satisfied with the way [McDonnell] is handling the controversy surrounding him.”

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