Home 2021 Elections Is Virginia 2021 Starting to “Rhyme” with the Disastrous 2009 Virginia Governor’s...

Is Virginia 2021 Starting to “Rhyme” with the Disastrous 2009 Virginia Governor’s Election? According to Bob Holsworth, It All Comes Down to “Who’s Ticked Off Now?”

Prof. Larry Sabato adds: "You’d have to be blind not to notice some disturbing signs for Democrats. Either Dems will galvanize or the Rs will win."

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Thanks to Brandon Jarvis of Virginia Scope for highlighting this post by Bob Holsworth (Founding Director for the Center for Public Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University), which asks a crucial question about the Virginia 2021 election – “Who’s Ticked Off Now?” See below for that post, which dovetails very well with what UVA Professor Larry Sabato said yesterday (“There’s a natural fall-off because Trump isn’t in the race (directly, at least). But this is falling off the cliff. I wonder how good Dems’ GOTV is this year.”).

Basically, what both of these Virginia political gurus – Holsworth and Sabato – are arguing is that we can’t just assume Virginia is “blue” and that the Democratic ticket will automatically win on November 2, but that if Republicans are really fired up and Democrats are asleep/dozing (which they seem to be doing right now, according to early voting numbers, lack of social media enthusiasm, a dearth of yard signs, etc, etc.), it’s VERY possible that Youngkin et al. could be the ones declaring victory on Tuesday night, November 2nd. 

Recall that in 2009, one year after Barack Obama won Virginia by 6 points, Virginia Democrats didn’t just lose, but got WIPED OUT in November 2009, with conservative Republicans Bob McDonnell/Bill Bolling/Ken Cuccinelli clobbering Democrats Creigh Deeds/Jody Wagner/Steve Shannon, plus Democrats losing 5 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates (dropping to just 39 Democratic delegates out of 100 seats).  Also recall that the 2009 Virginia Democratic wipeout losses presaged the national Democratic disaster the next year, in the 2010 midterms, when Republicans saw a massive net again of 63 (!) seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, making John Boehner Speaker and deposing Nancy Pelosi. Ugh.

So why did that happen? Very simple: Virginia Republicans were fired up, albeit for totally absurd and bad reasons (remember the racist signs about Barack and Michelle Obama at “Tea Party” rallies?), and Democrats were basically assuming that the election of the nation’s first Black president meant it was “mission accomplished, we can go back to sleep now and ignore politics.” Except that…nope, it *really* doesn’t work that way; to the contrary, as much as you want to ignore politics, it’s not going away – and can also do a LOT of damage if you just let it do its thing. And, of course, while history doesn’t exactly repeat itself, but it does “rhyme,” as the saying goes…

So this election, we no longer have Trump’s actual name on the ballot – even if he’s clearly still the leader of the Republican Party, has endorsed Glenn Youngkin, etc. – nor is Trump in the White House anymore. Meanwhile, President Biden is trying to deal with a slew of nasty, difficult problems he inherited from Trump (just as Obama was trying to deal with the mess he inherited from Bush in 2009), from COVID to the economy to foreign policy to…you name it, basically. And with voters tending to have VERY short memories, plus the media relentlessly pushing a “both sides”/false equivalence and anti-Democratic narrative, it’s not really surprising that Biden’s approval rating has fallen from the mid-50%s last spring/early summer to about 46% or so now. Which is absurd and infuriating, of course, if you think about it at all, but…to use a common (and annoying) expression, “it is what it is.”

This morning, another troubling – if weird – piece of news about the Virginia election came out, with a new poll by the University of Mary Washington that showed Terry McAuliffe up 5 points (46%-41%) over Glenn Youngkin among *registered voters*, but DOWN 5 points (43%-48%) to Youngkin in the polls *likely voters* model. Now, that’s a huge difference, seems pretty hard to believe, and may not be accurate, but…as Professor Sabato said this morning, “You’d have to be blind not to notice some disturbing signs for Democrats. Either Dems will galvanize or the Rs will win.” As for Holsworth, he argues that:

In sheer numerical terms, the Democrats have a political advantage in Virginia. But if they are going to defeat the ticked off, they’ll have to make certain that their “somewhat supportives,” the folks who are providing their poll margin over Youngkin, believe its worth their while to vote.

That analysis is very hard to argue with, and really there’s no reason to do so. Instead, what we need is – to put it bluntly – Virginia Democrats to shake off their post-Trump stupor and *WAKE THE F*** UP* – IMMEDIATELY! If not, don’t be surprised when a lot of the progress we’ve made the past two years – on voting rights, civil rights, clean energy,  environmental protection, criminal justice reform, women’s reproductive freedom, gun violence prevent, LGBT equality, you name it – under Democratic “trifecta” control of Virginia, gets rolled back starting in January 2022.

WHO’S TICKED OFF NOW?

Basically all the polls show Terry McAuliffe with a lead, albeit relatively small, in the Governor’s contest. The quality of individual polls is highly variable, but given the number coming to the same conclusion it’s reasonable to think that at this point McAuliffe is ahead.

IF the people answering the surveys and giving McAuliffe a huge advantage on COVID actually show up.

It’s an important if.

Surveys often ask who’s more enthusiastic about voting to measure how it might impact turnout.

I like to modify the question and ask who’s ticked off.

From 2017 through 2020, the Virginia Democrats’ anger at Trump seethed unabated- every election at every level sent the same message.

A Northam landslide and 15 seats in the House in ‘17, a Kaine blowout and 3 congressional seats in ‘18, control of both chambers in the General Assembly in ‘19, double digit wins by Warner and Biden in 2020.

This may be shifting.

McAuliffe’s Youngkin-Trumpkin message has tried to keep the anger on boil. But without Trump in office or on Twitter every hour, the Democrats are now the incumbents and its the Republicans who appear more ticked off.

That’s the trend in survey responses. Republicans are more “strongly opposed” to Democratic leaders than Democrats are “strongly supportive.” I’m seeing a lot of “somewhat supportive” Democratic assessments.

More importantly, this seems to be the case in the first few days of early voting when, unlike 2020, Republican-leaning regions are turning out equal to or greater than the Democrats.

I’m not suggesting that Youngkin will win. He has to walk a very fine line, striving not to appear Trumpian while hoping that issues such as rising prices, crime, and critical race theory can fuel suburban angst and defections from the Democrats.
Early voting, in fact, could turn out to be the saving grace for Democrats.

Better to be surprised now than on election day. It could be the kick in the backside than the Democratic turnout operation needs. The party knows, in relatively detailed terms, who their voters are and where they live. And they have an extended period for outreach.

In sheer numerical terms, the Democrats have a political advantage in Virginia. But if they are going to defeat the ticked off, they’ll have to make certain that their “somewhat supportives,” the folks who are providing their poll margin over Youngkin, believe its worth their while to vote.

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