Leahy: Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin Take It To the Wire in Virginia

As the 2021 Virginia political season slouches toward its end, the nervous questions and hand-wringing about who will win and what it all means fill the air.

In other words, it’s a typical late October in a statewide election year. But let’s dive in to the speculative swamp before the water gets too cold.

Who will win the state’s top three races and control of the House of Delegates? Voting and population trends generically favor Democrats, just as they have for most of the 21st century. Remember: Republicans have elected just one governor in this century: Robert F. McDonnell in 2009. The party has been shut out of statewide office since the 2013 elections and last elected a Republican U.S. senator in 2002: the late John W. Warner. The GOP’s collapse was complete in 2019, when an anti-Trump wave finished the job and swept Republicans from control of the General Assembly.

Democrats benefited up and down the ballot thanks to former president Donald Trump. But their gains were building long before Trump. There’s no reason to believe the trends that made Democrats so dominant in statewide elections this century have suddenly ended in 2021.

That does not mean Democrats are invincible in statewide races. In their gubernatorial nominee, Terry McAuliffe, Democrats chose a known quantity. That’s great in a primary, where money, personnel and message advantage what is effectively a reelection. But it’s a problematic sell in a Virginia general election.

The only other ex-governor to seek a second term was Mills Godwin. The Democrat-turned-Republican ran against Henry Howell in 1973 and won by just 15,000 votes out of more than 1 million cast. Want a second term? Great. Just don’t count on voters being eager to go along.

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