But politics grinds forward, and Virginia is still on track to give the nation its first look at politics and campaigning in a post-coronavirus environment.
What we’ve learned so far: As I wrote last week, pragmatism is the biggest winner of the 2021 campaign season. The major parties ignored their more vocal wings and picked candidates who represent the broad centers in both. It’s a bit like the statewide races in 2017, in which establishment favorites Ralph Northam (D) and Ed Gillespie (R) led their respective tickets. We know how that ended: Northam’s comfortable victory foreshadowed the Democratic resurgence that was capped in 2019 with the party winning trifecta control of state government.
We all know the biggest difference between now and then: Donald Trump is an ex-president who left office trailing the stench of infamy behind him. Yes, some Republicans still cling to Trumpism as tightly as they did when its namesake was in the Oval Office: witness the ongoing embarrassment of 5th Congressional District Rep. Bob Good and state Sen. Amanda F. Chase (Chesterfield).
Trump was a priceless gift to Virginia Democrats. He enabled Democrats to storm the GOP-friendly suburbs and establish impressive beachheads in ancient GOP strongholds such as Chesterfield County. Do those gains last now that Democrats don’t have Trump to kick around anymore?
We have one, early snapshot that may help us understand what’s happening and what it could mean as campaign season unfolds.
A JMC Analytics and Polling-CNalysis survey of likely voters taken after the June 8 primaries showed the Democratic statewide candidates leading their Republican rivals. But the numbers are close: Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe leads Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin 46-42 percent, well within the poll’s 4.2 percentage point margin of error.
That feels about right. Recall that McAuliffe won 48 percent of the vote in his bruising 2013 victory over Ken Cuccinelli II and Robert Sarvis, so the former governor begins 2021 essentially where he left off in 2013.
But that’s also not good. Has McAuliffe not made any ground over all that time? In this early look at the race, he hasn’t. And the numbers reinforce the idea that’s circulated under the radar in Virginia political circles for months: The only one really excited about a McAuliffe return is McAuliffe.
Also worth noting: The 12 percent of respondents who said they are “undecided” or didn’t respond at all. That’s, uh, less than optimal for McAuliffe, who campaigned as an incumbent during the primaries and had the full support of party grandees.
The numbers are even more interesting for the actual incumbent on the November ballot, Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D). Herring, who is seeking his third term, leads Republican nominee Jason Miyares 45-38 percent. It’s outside the margin of error, but for a two-term incumbent to be below 50 percent? That’s bad. Worse: 17 percent are undecided or didn’t respond.
Those figures will change, just as they will in the lieutenant governor race between Democrat Hala Ayala and Republican Winsome Sears. There, Ayala leads 42-36 percent, with 22 percent undecided/didn’t answer.
The poll summary says Democrats do not have “a secure lead, and there are noticeable signs of underperformance relative to President Biden’s 2020 race.”
Maybe that’s why the campaigns didn’t stop to take a post-primary breath. In a close race, with so many people undecided, they had no choice but to keep running.