Virginia governor’s race dead even less than two weeks from Election Day: poll

With just 13 days to go until Election Day in Virginia, the gubernatorial showdown between former Democratic Gov. According to new poll, Terry McAuliffe is tied with Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin.

McAuliffe and Youngkin are both at 46% among Virginia registered voters, according to a Monmouth University survey conducted Oct. 16-19 and released on Wednesday. This is a significant shift in Monmouth’s August and September surveys on the highly watched state race. McAuliffe was ahead by five points.

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The new poll indicates that a surge in support among independents for Youngkin is a major factor in the GOP nominee drawing even with McAuliffe. Youngkin tops McAuliffe 48%-39% among independents, compared to a 46%-37% lead for the former governor in Monmouth’s September poll. The poll also indicates that Youngkin’s support is increasing among women voters. McAuliffe’s 52%-38% lead among women in September shrunk to 47%-43% in the latest survey.

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, left, and Republican nominee, Glenn Youngkin, participate in their debate at Northern Virginia Community College, in Alexandria, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Former Gov. of Virginia and Democratic candidate for gubernatorial office in Virginia. Terry McAuliffe, left, and Republican nominee, Glenn Youngkin, participate in their debate at Northern Virginia Community College, in Alexandria, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021. Photo by Cliff Owen, Associated Press
(AP)

The poll also suggests geography’s at play – Youngkin increased his already enormous lead in western Virginia – the reddest part of the state – while McAuliffe’s large lead in heavily-blue Northern Virginia has slipped slightly. The new survey indicates that McAuliffe retains single digit advantages in the Tidewater and Richmond/I-95 areas of the commonwealth.

“Suburban women, especially in Northern Virginia, have been crucial to the sizable victories Democrats have enjoyed in the commonwealth since 2017. Their support does not register at the same level as last time. Monmouth University Polling Institute Director Patrick Murray stated that this is partly due to the shift in key issues and partially to dampened enthusiasm from party faithful.

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The poll points to a shift in voters priorities, with 45% saying jobs and the economy are the top issue, up from 39% in September. Education and schools – at 41% – is now the second most pressing issue, up ten points from last month. Combating COVID dropped to third place, at 23%, down 11 points from September. The new survey shows that Youngkin, who has made protecting the rights of parents in dealing with their children’s education his closing theme for his campaign, is now at third place. This was down from 28 points in September. The poll shows that Youngkin is now slightly ahead of McAuliffe in terms of trust regarding jobs and economics.

The poll was taken after McAuliffe made a huge verbal error. McAuliffe stated that parents shouldn’t tell schools how to teach during the final debate. “

The Youngkin campaign, along with other Republicans, jumped on the opportunity to viralize the video.

McAuliffe has a significant advantage in handling Covid, and his competivity on economic issues in last month’s race helped him win this race. However, Youngkin was able to alter the course of the debate by using the words of his opponent on parental involvement in school curriculum, to get voter attention to that topic. Murray stated that this has not only eroded the Democrat’s education policy advantage, but also raises doubts about McAuliffe’s ability to manage the pandemic.

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Virginia and New Jersey are the only two states to hold gubernatorial contests in the year after a presidential election, ensuring they get outsized attention from coast to coast. There is a tradition of commonwealth voters defeating the nominee for the White House gubernatorial office. McAuliffe broke with that tradition in 2013 with his election as governor in the year after Obama was reelected. McAuliffe was unable to run for reelection in 2017 because Virginia governors are barred from serving two straight terms.

Republicans haven’t won statewide in Virginia in a dozen years, and now-President Biden carried the state by 10 points last November.

But the one-time battleground remains a very competitive state, as is seen as a key bellwether ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. National Democrats are on edge ahead of next year’s midterm elections because of the close race for governor. They will defend razor thin majorities in both the House of Representatives (House) and Senate. The new poll and other surveys show that GOP voters are enthusiastic. By a 79%-72% margin, Republicans indicated they were more motivated to vote than Democrats.

McAuliffe’s putting on a full court press to get Democrats to cast ballots in the current early voting period, or to go to the polls on Election Day. One way to do this is by inviting top Democratic surrogates. First Lady Jill Biden campaigned with McAuliffe on Friday and voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia House Democratic leader who in 2018 made history as the first Black female gubernatorial nominee of a major political party, teamed up with him for two stops on Sunday.

Vice President Kamala Harris stumps with McAuliffe on Thursday, and former President Barack Obama will campaign with McAuliffe on Saturday. McAuliffe has also stated twice in the last week that Biden would be joining him. But the president’s standing in the commonwealth continue to slip, and stands at 43% approval and 52% disapproval in the new poll.

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The poll also indicates that McAuliffe’s favorable ratings have edged down – from 40% favorable and 33% unfavorable last month to 39%-39% now. Youngkin’s 41% favorable and 29% unfavorable rating is relatively unchanged from September.

The Monmouth University poll questioned 1,005 registered voters in Virginia, ,with an overall sampling error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

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