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HOME STRETCH: Virginia Gov. Race Dead Even, GOP Gaining Ground in N.J.

We’re less than a week out from Election Day, after which the results of gubernatorial elections in the Democratic strongholds of Virginia and New Jersey will provide us some of our first concrete insight as to what the nation’s political pulse is going into next year’s midterms.

And so far, things aren’t looking bad for Republicans.

Over the course of the past month, the race between former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin has gone from being a relative niche discussion point among polling nerds (like myself) to being national news.

This isn’t without reason — McAuliffe should be running away with this thing, but he’s not. McAuliffe, a close Clinton ally, is a political powerhouse, is a former governor running against a man who was effectively a nobody at this point last year, and is running in a state that’s been rapidly trending Democratic over the course of the past few decades.

In many ways, this is because McAuliffe has found himself caught in whirlwinds of a perfect political storm. He’s running in a year that’s likely preceding a midterm wave for Republicans, under a president whose popularity is tanking; and Youngkin, his opponent, is about as milquetoast a candidate as his party can manage without alienating hardline conservatives.

Furthermore, Virginia has become a political snake pit for Democrats after the leftist school board of one of its largest counties has become a target of national scrutiny.

The Loudoun County School Board deliberately concealed the rape of a fifteen-year-old girl by a boy in a skirt because it would threaten their transgender bathroom initiative. Meanwhile, after board meetings in the exurban D.C. county became hotbeds of protest by parents frustrated with the overt leftism of school curricula, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memo in which he called for the federal investigation of parents’ “harassment and intimidation” of school board members under the paper-thin veneer of domestic terrorism concerns.

At a Sept. 28 debate, McAuliffe only stoked the fire when — in what Philip Klein of National Review refers to as an in-kind contribution to the Youngkin campaign — he suggested that he didn’t believe “parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

RealClearPolitics averages McAuliffe’s lead at 0.8% — a far cry from the 5% lead he had at the beginning of the month. FiveThirtyEight is slightly more generous to the former governor, with the site’s aggregates showing him with an average lead of 1.5%. Regardless of which metric one chooses to go by, McAuliffe’s polling lead is well within most pollsters’ margins of error. Furthermore, election results could easily skew much farther to either side than what the polls are showing us, which, as we’ve seen time and time again, is often the case.

For example, incumbent Gov. Ralph Northam was elected in 2017 by a margin of nearly nine percent, whereas the final RCP average in the race between Northam and Republican opponent Ed Gillespie only had Northam up by 3.3%. Some polls released just days before the election showed the race tied; others even showed Gillespie holding a narrow lead.

PredictIt, an online prediction market that allows users to place bets on the outcomes of major elections, has seen the value of bets on a Youngkin win nearly double over the past thirty days.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, faces off against former State Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli in his bid for reelection.

Murphy’s polling lead is hard to pinpoint, as the race, largely assumed to be a slam-dunk for Democrats, hasn’t been polled particularly heavily. One Monmouth poll released Wednesday shows Murphy with an 11% lead, polling at 50% to Ciattarelli’s 39%. Another released by Emerson last week only shows Murphy up by six.

However, most pollsters seem to agree on two things: Murphy’s lead is somewhere in the high single-digits or low double-digits, and that he’s struggling to poll over 50%.

This comes as a bit of a surprise for two reasons. First, Murphy is a Democrat in a deep-blue state. Second, his approval ratings have remained relatively high over the course of his governorship. However, as is the case with what we’re seeing Virginia, the waning popularity of the Biden administration and the volatile political climate being stoked by emboldened Democrats hawking bad policy are two likely culprits.

The New York Post reports:

The backlash against President Biden has spread to solid-blue New Jersey, a new poll finds, where Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy is in a dogfight for reelection.

The Monmouth University survey released Wednesday found that just 43 percent of New Jerseyans approve of Biden’s performance in the White House — down from 51 percent in August and 55 percent in May.

Biden also suffers from comparison with Murphy. Not only does the governor have a higher approval rating than the president (52 percent compared to Biden’s 43 percent), but when asked which of the two pols has been able to “get more things done,” nearly a third of voters (32 percent) answered Murphy, while only 7 percent picked Biden (47 percent said the two men had accomplished “about the same amount”).

Murphy holds an 11-point lead among registered voters over Republican Jack Ciattarelli in the poll, with Monmouth’s range of likely turnout models showing the incumbent in front by between 8 and 14 percentage points.

I live in New Jersey, in a Democratic-trending suburb near New York City. I can say with confidence that the situation on the ground is markedly different from what I saw during Murphy’s initial election bid in 2017, where he defeated then-Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno in a blowout. I see Ciattarelli lawn signs everywhere, and anti-Murphy attack ads run almost every commercial break — neither of these things were true of the Guadagno campaign. These metrics, of course, are anecdotal and mean nothing — however, the fact that team Ciatarelli has made headway at all in these areas would suggest the Garden State’s political landscape to have at least marginally shifted rightward over the course of the last four years.

New Jersey is still likely to remain in the Democratic column — expect Murphy’s margin of victory to be in the high single-digits, which, while comfortably reelecting him, would certainly still be enough to generate unease among Democrats in a state that Biden won by a margin of 16 percent.

Virginia, on the other hand, is about as pure of a tossup as one can get. While poll numbers, demographic trends, and conventional wisdom would ever-so-slightly tilt the needle toward McAuliffe, a hypothetical Youngkin victory is now regarded as less of an upset than it is a feasible outcome with a significant chance of happening.

And because both New Jersey and Virginia have trended so blue in recent years, Republican victories in these states are no longer contingencies for prospective midterm success. Democratic wins, albeit by significantly narrower margins than those to which the party is accustomed, are sufficient — however, this is not to deny the possibility of GOP victories in such states, nor is it to insinuate that Republican enthusiasm is for naught.

A prime example of this was seen in 2013, when McAuliffe bucked the long-standing trend of the Virginia governorship falling to the party opposite the president’s when he won election against future Trump border czar Ken Cuccinelli. That didn’t stop Republicans from dominating the 2014 midterms, where they picked up some nine Senate seats and expanded their House majority.

The bottom line: anything can happen, and in a week’s time, we’ll have a much clearer picture of what to expect going forward.

Content syndicated from with permission.

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