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Saxman: The Debate, the Polls, and the Pendulum.

Last week, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe debated Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin at the Appalachian Law School in Grundy.

It was a relatively short debate dominated by divisive social issues because that’s what the media moderators wanted it to be. Both candidates were prepared for questions on COVID, abortion, Critical Race Theory, and, of course, the removal of Lee’s statue in Richmond.

Kudos to panelist Bob Holsworth for asking questions about the economy and specifically Southwest Virginia!

Share The Intersection [1]

Also, gallery applause to Susan Page for trying to keep the candidates on time.

Other than that – well – let’s just say I don’t like it when media personalities are campaign debate moderators who think they are running joint press conferences with follow up questions and candidate engagements. I get that it’s their natural state of mind, but they should just ask relatively short questions, get out of the way, let the candidates debate, and hold them to the time allotted. That’s it. Easy.

Debates should be about the candidates – ya know – debating. Far too often media bias, either financial or political, creeps/storms into the fray. (By financial I mean the media business model of inciting division for ratings and clicks)

We heard very little substance in the way of K-12, higher ed, transportation, health care, public safety, and the economy – here.in.Virginia. Instead, we got Texas abortion restriction bill that even the Wall St. Journal editorial board said was an unworkable mess: [2]

“… this law is a misfire even if you oppose abortion, and neither side should be confident the law will be upheld.”

The press have been trying to make abortion a central issue for months now and Texas delivered for them. Irony noted.

The trend of less public debating will continue due to media fragmentation and outright partisanship. Candidates really don’t need to engage the media that much anymore and advisors are right to limit the interactions. It’s mainly downside, especially for Republicans. But, we should not let all Republicans off the hook – some of them thrive on doing crazy sh*t for free press coverage/attacks which then turn into HELP ME I’M BEING ATTACKED BY LIBERAL MEDIA ELITES!!

Or maybe that’s just my inbox…

Just look at Youngkin’s stiff arm of the Virginia Bar Association debate which had long been a tradition in the Commonwealth. That tradition is now long gone. GONE. Buh bye. That is unless the Bar moves the debate from July to the fall and links up with one or two other organizations. MAYBE they have a shot at a statewide debate in 2024 or 2025 – but not alone.

Thursday’s debate was one of the better ones in recent memory. Former Governor McAuliffe came across as the incumbent while Youngkin took on the role of challenger and both were reasonably good at it.

As I have said before, politics is about the future. If you are defending yourself too much – you come across as defensive. If you are on offense too much, you are offensive.

McAuliffe needs to talk more about the future and how his policy platform will help voters if he wants to win back the Executive Mansion. In this debate, Terry McAuliffe held serve but his constant referencing of Donald Trump tells me that his internals back what other polls are showing – his base voters are less enthusiastic this year.

Youngkin, on the other hand, for his first direct interaction with an opponent not of his party, gave a very solid performance. He came across as gubernatorial and gave as good as he got. Youngkin’s answers were thought out and delivered well. He clearly spent a LOT of time in debate prep and it paid off.

If non partisan debate teachers were to score this debate, I think they would give it to Youngkin on points. There were no knock outs, knock downs, and or a solid punch landed. They both came out of their respective corners and duked it out for the first thirty minutes, but then had a 90 second commercial break.

Youngkin’s commercial on the grocery tax cut ran followed by McAuliffe’s ad with the doctor in a white coat talking about COVID vaccinations.

So, that it likely what this race will come down to – grocery tax cut and COVID vaccinations. Both are about the future.

The candidates would do well to watch the debate twice – once with the sound on and once with it off. They will see their mistakes more readily that way. And yes, they both made some – mainly style over substance.

We’ll see how long the Texas abortion bill impacts the race. The issue was brought up during the debate and Youngkin reiterated his position on abortion which in all likelihood didn’t do any net political damage to him.

Holsworth’s question on repeal of Right to Work did not go unnoticed by the business community. Youngkin supports Right to Work. Along with the rest of the business community and policy makers, he needs to explain the issue better so that younger voters/workers understand what being compelled to join a union means for their bottom line as they balance student debt, mortgages/rent, and monthly living expenses.

McAuliffe, on the question of compulsory union membership as a condition of employment, pivoted directly to his support of the $15 minimum wage. That might mean his substantial labor support of his campaign is based on accelerating the calendar of minimum wage increases rather than outright repeal of Right to Work. He’ll be pressed for a clear answer on Right to Work by the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce during Friday’s interview.

McAuliffe and Youngkin square off again on the NOVA Chamber’s Top of the Ticket Debate on September 28th which will be moderated by the host of NBC’s Meet the Press, Chuck Todd. Hopefully, we’ll be spared the Second Act of Socially Divisive National Issues and stick to ones that pertain to state government.

Virginia state government.

Yeah, I know … I’m a dreamer … but I’m not the only one….

Oh, why not.


Recent polls show the race tightening. Youngkin’s camp released a poll showing him +2 or 48-46. The Washington Post/GMU Schar School poll has it McAuliffe +3, 50-47. VCU has it at 43-34 McAuliffe with 23% undecided and an almost 7% MOE.

So where is it? Well, any poll conducted after voting has begun that doesn’t specifically include Princess Blanding (Liberation Party candidate) as a choice, has to be taken with a whole shaker of salt. Salt! Salt! Salt!

Who’s Princess Blanding? Click here to see her bio – pretty powerful story. [4] Shh…

As a regular here in Election Nerd Disneyland, you probably know about Blanding but the vast majority of Virginia’s voters do not. As a third party candidate who has qualified for the ballot, Blanding has received almost ZERO media attention. In 2013, third party candidate Robert Sarvis got a LOT more media attention than Blanding is getting today. Sarvis got 7% that year helping McAuliffe defeat Ken Cuccinelli 47-45.

One would think that a storyline like having a third party candidate potentially tipping the balance in a statewide elections once again would be of interest to the media.

DAMN IT MAN! Where is it??

It’s probably a tie, but very likely inside the MOE. It’s close – as I have said it would be all along.

Judging by the paltry turnout of the Whatever The Heck This IS rally in DC over the weekend, Governor Wilder might be right when he told me in an interview that “Trump is gone. He’s gone!” from this election. That is unless he actually shows up here to campaign for the GOP. If that happens, all bets are off. Well, actually I’m betting and betting heavy.

Speaking of VIP visits, Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Commonwealth. She went to a HBCU football game at Hampton University and attended a private fundraiser in Great Falls with McAuliffe. With any VIP visit – pay CLOSE attention to where they go. It tells a lot.

Why Hampton? Why a HBCU campus? Why a football game? Who was there? Who was NOT there? All tells.

Will President Joe Biden visit? Highly unlikely at this point. Why not? Where did he campaign with McAuliffe this summer? Arlington.

Two visits – Arlington and Hampton.

Both tells in political poker. Arlington went 80% for Biden and Hampton 70%.

What does that tell you?

The Pendulum.

Yes, Virginia. There is a Political Pendulum and it’s swinging back.

Four years ago, with an Anti Trump Tsunami, Democrats swept the three statewide races by big margins and won fifteen House seats. Control of the House was determined by picking a film canister out of a bowl.

But, to Virginia’s credit, the bowl was beautiful and now it’s historic.

This year, judging by the finance reports and polling whispers, control of the House of Delegates is very much up for grabs. The Democrats have a massive fundraising lead but even that might not blunt the force of a tidal shift at the national level.

All they can do is bust tail at the doors, run their ads, and send out their mail hoping that the national tide going out is just gravitational. A countering tsunami majority destroying tide is possible. Unlikely, but possible.

Right now, it looks like the GOP will pick up seats and get close to winning back the House and the statewide races are all close.

Subscribers and Virginia FREE Members will be getting that analysis later this week. A LOT of seats are in play.

My last count? 15.