Virginia governor’s race promises to be key test after Trump
The Republican candidate is a wealthy businessman and political novice who questions the integrity of the electoral system.
The Democratic frontrunner is an old-school career politician with deep roots in the party establishment.
Just months after Joe Biden won the presidency amid a wave of anti-Trump sentiment, a proxy rematch is brewing in Virginia, which chooses a new governor in 2021.
Republicans named Glenn Youngkin, a little-known former private equity executive who was immediately endorsed by former President Trump.
The leading contender for the Democratic primary on June 8 is Terry McAuliffe, a former governor of Virginia who seeks a comeback by following Biden’s playbook – emphasizing his experience, standing up against Trumpism.
One of two states holding a gubernatorial election this year, Virginia is the first major test of strength between the parties since Biden’s election and could set the tone for the 2022 midterm election. .
For Republicans, the showdown will be a test of whether their candidates can successfully hold the Trump base while wooing swing voters. Youngkin presents the election as a potential referendum on Biden’s progressive policies, not Trump’s legacy.
“Trump is not on the ticket,” Youngkin said in an interview after speaking at a rally here in Clifton, a northern Virginia suburb of Washington. “The Washington administration has moved so far to the left and so quickly that when a state like Virginia stands up and says no, and an outsider like me defeats Terry McAuliffe, that will be a big statement.
But Democrats are moving quickly to define the political novice as a sidekick of the former president – a strategy designed to build excitement and participation in the 2020 without Trump actually being on the ballot.
“He’s a far-right winger in the same mold as Donald Trump,” McAuliffe said in an interview. “I’m not going to let Glenn Youngkin do to Virginia what Donald Trump did to the country.”
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Virginia gubernatorial contests – always held a year after a presidential election – are often seen as a referendum on which party holds the White House, and that’s generally bad news for that party. In most Virginia gubernatorial elections, the winner came from the party, not the White House.
But the state in recent years has leaned more and more Democratic – Biden won it by more than 10 percentage points, about twice Hillary Clinton’s margin in 2016. Republicans failed to win an election statewide since 2009.
Republicans have improved their chances of ending that losing streak in 2021, analysts say, by appointing Youngkin. The leaders of the establishment parties were especially relieved that the nomination was not won by Amanda Chase, a state senator considered the most provocative of alternatives. Known as “Trump in Heels,” Chase was kicked out of his legislative committees after attending the Jan.6 rally that preceded the takeover of Capitol Hill by Trump supporters.
Youngkin, 54, is a former co-CEO of the Carlyle Group with a reported net worth of over $ 200 million – deep pockets that could help make him the first GOP candidate in a decade to be able to compete financially. with the Democrats.
The political newcomer has a limited track record on political and political issues. He avoided further defining himself during the GOP nomination contest, an adviser said, avoiding most questionnaires sent to candidates by special interest groups.
This could make it easier for him to execute the delicate political balance that will face all Republicans in the upcoming midterm races.
“This is going to be a test of whether or not a candidate can call on a Trump base in a nomination battle and then pivot and win suburban voters,” said Bob Holsworth, an independent political analyst in Virginia. “They appointed someone who seems to have the capacity to do it.”
During the GOP nomination contest, Youngkin laid out a plan to ensure “electoral integrity” – a central issue for Trump supporters who believe the former president’s false claims that Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 elections.
The morning after Youngkin won the nomination, Trump released a statement congratulating him, “He knows how to blow up Virginia’s economy, and he has my full and utter support!”
Youngkin embraced the conservative gun rights agenda, opposition to abortion, low taxes, and criticism of critical social issues like teaching critical race theory in schools. But he quickly tried to put more distance between himself and Trump’s signature grievance over the 2020 election.
“I’ve said before that Joe Biden was rightfully elected our president,” Youngkin said in an interview with Fox Business. “I mean, he took the oath. He sleeps in the White House.
Chase dropped his threat to run as an Independent and instead endorsed Youngkin. But she has made it clear that she will keep her feet on the ground in supporting Trump’s agenda. Asked about the importance of Trump and his platform to the success of Republicans, she replied in a text message: “Considering that 1.9 million Virginians voted for him last November, I would say that is very. important.
In the Democratic primary to succeed Gov. Ralph Northam, McAuliffe’s main rivals are two black women – Senator Jennifer McClellan and Jennifer Carroll Foy, a former member of the state House of Delegates. Progressive State Delegate Lee Carter and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax – another black candidate who could have been a top contender had he not faced sexual assault allegations are also in attendance. lice.
McAuliffe, 64, leads in polls and fundraisers across this diverse field of young candidates – a path that is reminiscent of Biden’s victory in the 2020 primary competition over a wide range of rivals that included contestants of color and many women .
Before even running for office, McAuliffe was practically anointed by Biden, a close friend for decades. At a Virginia presidential campaign event in March 2020, then-candidate Biden ran onto the stage, thanked McAuliffe for his introduction and hailed him as “the former and future governor of Virginia.”
Like Biden, McAuliffe places his political and government experience at the heart of his campaign. A prolific fundraiser with ties to the party spanning decades, he is very close to Bill and Hillary Clinton, served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and made an unsuccessful attempt to be governor of Virginia in 2009. He came back and won in 2013 – a rare exception to the trend the White House party typically wins in Virginia.
He stepped down in 2017 due to Virginia’s ban on governors serving consecutive terms. Now he’s essentially seeking a second term, touting his record of overseeing economic growth, restoring voting rights for many criminals, and vetoing conservative social policies endorsed by the then Republican-controlled state legislature. .
McAuliffe jokes about complaints that his candidacy for another term is now a throwback to an earlier political era. “Over time, I am like a fine wine. I’m getting more seasoned, ”he said during a recent election campaign on economic policy.
Her candidacy generated tensions among progressives who had hoped that in 2021, with Carroll Foy and McClellan in the race, Virginia could elect the country’s first black woman governor.
Rivals warn that nominating a confident and familiar candidate like McAuliffe might not generate the enthusiasm and turnout Democrats need to beat Youngkin.
“If we have two rich patriarchal at the top of the rankings trying to outdo each other, to outdo each other, who is he going to inspire to come to the polls?” Carroll Foy said in an interview.
“We need a candidate who will motivate our base and expand our base,” said McClellan.
But McAuliffe has garnered support from a phalanx of black mayors and lawmakers across the state. Like Biden, he takes advantage of the pragmatic tendency of many older black voters, who want an experienced candidate and the safest bet to win.
“Personally, I want someone who knows the job, who’s done the job, who can run the race,” said Virginia State Senate President Louise Lucas, who is black. She traveled from Richmond to McAuliffe’s home in northern Virginia early last year to urge him to run.
McAuliffe could attract swing voters like Jack Runfola, a veteran of Sterling, Va. Who has been a split-ticket independent voter in the past. He didn’t decide to vote for McAuliffe in the primary, but is disheartened by Trump’s endorsement of Youngkin. “It’s the kiss of death for me and my wife,” Runfola said.
But Youngkin’s supporters are optimistic about his ability to forge his own identity and shift the attention of voters from Trump to Biden.
In suburban Virginia, “people voted for Biden here because they didn’t want Trump in their living room for another four years,” former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) Said. “Biden misinterpreted his tenure in governing the left. People are looking for something new. “