Younkin wins, leaving democrats scrambling for answers

Jeremy Young '24

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If you have been scrolling through the internet or turned on the TV in the last few months, it's likely you’ve been bombarded by political ads for Terry McAuliffe or Glenn Youngkin. After the turmoil of last year’s presidential election, it’s safe to say many people were looking forward to a year off from elections. However, since the Virginia gubernatorial election occurs in either a presidential election year or a midterm year, voters again were blasted with campaign ads. It might come as a surprise to many people before the election, despite the 2020 state presidential elections ending in a blowout, gubernatorial polls were razor thin. While governor elections might seem relatively meaningless on a national scale, this election will serve as an indicator for next year’s midterm elections for control of the House of Representatives and the Senate, but also for the 2024 presidential election. It will also serve as a small sample size indication for how Americans feel on key issues such as vaccine mandates, the economy, and Joe Biden. 


Most polls had Terry McAuliffe winning by between a 3-5 point margin. Recent polls from Fox News had McAuliffe winning by as much as 11 points and also by 5 points. The most recent poll added on October 15th from the Trafalgar Group has McAuliffe and Youngkin tying at 48% but had Youngkin winning by a net result of 1. He has also gained 11 points since August. Polls have been very unreliable in the past, like the 2020 Senate elections. Last year, Virginia predicted Warner winning by 21 points whereas he ended up winning by only 12. In the Presidential election, polls predicted Biden winning by between 16 or 18 points and he only won by 10 points with 54% of the vote. While polls were off in 2020, Democrats still have won by historically large margins; Biden won by the largest margin for a Democrat running for president since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944. So the question remains, what has changed since 2020, and why were polls so close? 


The simple answer is Democrats simply aren’t motivated. According to the Washington Post, “Just 55 percent of Democrats surveyed said they were very enthusiastic about the November elections, compared with 61 percent for Republicans. Among independents, 51 percent said they were very enthusiastic.” The less enthusiastic voters mean the fewer voters showing up to the polls. McAuiliffe tried to generate enthusiasm by ramping up attacks on Youngkin targeting vaccine mandates and abortion especially following the Texas Abortion Law. He also called in the big guns to ramp up support, former president Barack Obama, Stacy Abrams, and Joe Biden all came to Virginia to help build up support. Another problem, in addition to the lack of enthusiasm from Democrats, is that people aren’t very excited about Joe Biden. Biden’s approval rating has dropped to 43.4 percent in FiveThirtyEight’s poll with the issue that voters are most concerned about high prices and inflation. 


Despite the polls being very tight, Mcauliffe still had the edge in most polls and had the upper hand in the sense he has experience in the job as he served as governor from 2013 to 2017. Throughout his time as governor, he issued a record number of 120 vetoes to protect LGBTQ+ rights as well as voting rights which he extended to 200,000 convicted felons. He led economic development in the state securing major deals that moved companies such as Nestle, Carnival Cruise Lines, Stone Brewing, and Corporate Executive Board to the state of Virginia. He also helped bring Amazon’s second headquarters to Virginia. Prior to public office, McAuliffe was a businessman as he worked as an investment banker and as a real estate banker also working for an electric car company. 


Glenn Youngkin on the other hand, has no experience serving in public office and has spent 25 years working for the Carlyle Group. Youngkin supports Donald Trump and Trump has given him his support after winning the Republican nomination. Youngkin, for quite some time during the campaign, switched his views to help his chances among swing voters; a group that ended up being a deciding factor in this election. He did this in areas such as gun rights where he criticised background checks and gun control laws, but then once winning the Republican nomination, avoided taking a stand on gun rights even to the point where the NRA did not give him their endorsement. During the leadup to the Republican primary Youngkin also stood by Trump and his claim that the 2020 election had been stolen.


Now while Youngkin has acknowledged that Biden is president, he still supports stricter voting laws that he believes will keep the integrity of elections. He has also promised to fight against Democrats’ abortion laws. Youngkin has made abortion one of his cornerstone issues in the election saying, “My religious foundation and the cornerstone of my life teaches me is to protect life before birth and after birth, I just want Virginians to know I will stand for life, these are not squishy issues. These are absolute issues.” With that being said he does support exceptions to this. He has said that he does not support the Texas abortion bill because of the exceptions and because it was “unworkable and confusing.” He said that, “Virginia is not Texas. I don’t believe that a law like that actually flies in Virginia,” This is crucial because McAuliffe went on the attack saying that with Youngkin as governor, abortion in Virginia will be what it is in Texas. He said on a recording that he doesn’t want to make an emphasis on abortion to avoid losing casual voters. McAuliffe has attacked Youngkin at rallys saying, “Glenn Youngkin in July was caught secretly on tape saying that when he is governor and he has the House that he will defund Planned Parenthood and he will ban all abortions in the commonwealth of Virginia. … Let me be clear, Glenn Youngkin has said, ‘I will go on the offense, I will defund Planned Parenthood, I will ban abortions.” 


Abortions, as in the rest of the country, are a hot button issue in Virginia and played a big part in this election. From a 2019 Washington Post survey, 34 percent of Virginians support stricter abortion laws, 21 percent they should be less strict, and 37 percent say that abortion laws should stay the way they are now. Education was also at the forefront of this election. This sparked after a key moment in the first debate where McAuliffe declared that, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” This played right into Youngkin’s hand, and was used in numerous campaign ads to help bolster support among suburban parents. This had quite an impact as according to Corey DeAngelis, parents haven’t taken too kindly to being told their input doesn't matter and Parents of K-12 children supported Youngkin 56% to McAuliffe’s 36%. Suburban Parents ended up being the tipping point as according to Fox News, 70% of K-12 parents ended up voting for Youngkin meaning that many parents voted for Biden in the presidential election but then switched to voting for Youngkin for the governor race.   


Youngkin and McAuliffe had some defining moments through their debates. McAuliffe insulted Youngkin by accusing him of avoiding local taxes and for “performing root canals on babies,” while Youngkin insulted McAuliffe by ranting on Biden’s failed policies including Afghanistan and border security. Both called each other liars. They then focused on vaccine mandates. Youngkin supports vaccination but opposes vaccine mandates while McAuliffe took the chance to tie Youngkin back to Trump calling him a “Trump wannabe,” a strategy he has used often as Trump lost in Virginia by 10 points in 2020. Furthermore, Youngkin stuck to his message of the economy and crime. He said he would support repealing Virginia’s right to work law. Right-to-work laws allow employers to require workers to be part of a union. Youngkin says right-to-work laws will stifle Virginia’s business climate. Youngkin and McAuliffe also faced off on abortion and law enforcement.  


Democrats relied on the key areas of Northern Virginia, the Richmond area, and Hampton Roads but did not get the votes needed from these areas that they were hoping for. Republicans swept the state and stunned the country, and Democrats are not looking very strong heading to the midterms after losing a blue state and winning by the skin of their teeth in New Jersey. While Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden all campaigned for McAuliffe in the weeks leading up to the election, it didn’t seem to make a difference.  This also shows America’s level of enthusiasm about the Biden Administration. If Democrats couldn’t win in a state they had won by 10 points in 2020, can they expect to hold the majority in Congress?