by Philip Wegmann
The race for Virginia governor is now a dead heat as Republican Glenn Youngkin has pulled within a single point of Democrat Terry McAuliffe at summer’s end, according to a new poll released Tuesday.
The survey of 1,074 likely voters, conducted over the weekend by the Republican polling firm Trafalgar Group, showed 46.6% backing McAuliffe while 46.3% support Youngkin, a result well within the margin of error. Robert Cahaly, the pollster, called it “a virtual tie.”
Five percent of voters, meanwhile, said they are undecided ahead of the Nov. 2 election while just 2.1% plan to vote for a third-party candidate.
The Trafalgar poll shows a much closer contest than other recent surveys, which have McAuliffe more comfortably ahead. The former governor leads Youngkin by 5.2 percentage points in the current RealClearPolitics polling average.
The two candidates are competing to replace term-limited Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, but the race is also being closely watched around the country as an early window into what the midterm elections might bring next year.
Historically, the race tends to favor the candidate whose party is out of power at the White House. Northam defeated Republican Ed Gillespie in 2017 to win the governorship as the country was coming to grips with the Trump presidency. But Republicans won the governor’s mansion in 1993, the first year of Democrat Bill Clinton’s presidency, and again easily in 2009, the first year of Barack Obama’s.
Seeking to capitalize on those trends, the Republican National Committee made a significant early investment in the contest. As Politico first reported, party brass cut a multimillion-dollar check to dispatch over 100 field staffers at the beginning of this month to boost Youngkin.
Youngkin faces a challenge in revitalizing the Republican ground game in a state that has turned decidedly bluer over the last few cycles. Donald Trump lost Virginia in 2016 by six points to Hillary Clinton, and by 10 points to Joe Biden in 2020. Democrats control both Senate seats, seven of 11 seats in the House delegation, and hold majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.
His campaign also hopes that national winds will continue to blow in his favor, and against President Biden, but the former private equity executive isn’t in a hurry to nationalize the race. McAuliffe, the governor from 2013 to 2017, is meanwhile more than eager to tie his opponent to Trump.
Early prognosticators were quick to label the race as a barometer of the lingering legacy of the 45th president. However, the race may end up being more of a test of Biden and his policies as the president suffers through a cascade of crises that have caused his approval rating dip below 50% for the first time in his presidency.
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Philip Wegmann is a contributor to RealClearPolitics.
Photos “Terry McAuliffe” by Terry McAuliffe and “Glenn Youngkin” by Glenn Youngkin . Background Photo “Virginia State Capitol” by Martin Kraft CC BY-SA 3.0.