Rating change: Virginia governor’s race a Toss-up

Votes are there for McAuliffe, but trend has been toward Youngkin

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's lead in polls eroded as the campaign went on.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's lead in polls eroded as the campaign went on. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted November 1, 2021 at 2:14pm

Under normal conditions, Democrats win in Virginia. But these clearly aren’t normal conditions.

In the final moments of the 2021 race for governor, the race is coming down to the wire and Democrats no longer have a discernible advantage. Therefore, the rating for the race is changing from Tilt Democratic to Toss-up, a positive sign for Republicans. 

Considering Joe Biden’s 10-point victory over Donald Trump in the 2020 election, and general Democratic success in Virginia over the past four years, there are Democratic voters available to put former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe over the top. 

But rather than McAuliffe opening up a clear advantage in the final days as Democrats woke up to the threat of a Republican victory, the race has been trending toward Republicans. 

For months, McAuliffe maintained a narrow but consistent advantage, but that’s changed in the final weeks. Republican Glenn Youngkin has pulled even, and maybe slightly ahead of McAuliffe. As of Monday at noon, Youngkin had a 48.5-46.8 percent advantage in the RealClearPolitics average and a 47.8-46.8 percent advantage in the FiveThirtyEight average. Private polling has shown a tight race as well, and continues to be mixed, but more surveys have shown a Youngkin advantage compared to a few weeks ago. 

Of course that’s all well within the margin of error, but the recent shift makes it difficult to continue to give McAuliffe the edge.

While there are differences between the races, a Youngkin victory will harken back to Republican Scott Brown’s special election victory in the Massachusetts Senate race that presaged a difficult 2010 midterm cycle for Democrats. And, at this point, anything but a big, poll-bucking win by McAuliffe will be a boost for GOP morale heading into 2022. 

“We’re going to have to change our calculation of what’s a race and look at the districts Trump lost,” veteran Democratic consultant Rebecca Pearcey told The New York Times, even in the event of a narrow McAuliffe win. “[W]e’re going to have to reassess what the map looks like on Wednesday, because Tuesday is not going to be a pretty night.”

Which factor mattered most in the race (Biden’s job rating, Youngkin’s ability to spend personal money on the campaign, McAuliffe’s debate comment, critical race theory, or something else) will be up for debate once the votes have been counted. There will be plenty of analysis once the race is over, but neither a Youngkin or McAuliffe victory should be a surprise.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.