His pro-business, moderately left-of-center priorities are in step with a state that has trended Democratic for more than a decade but has remained leery of the party’s leftward tilt elsewhere. By contrast, the Republican nominee, Glenn Youngkin, a candidate making his first run for political office, has played footsie with the scurrilously antidemocratic “big lie” that election fraud propelled President Biden into office; signaled he would roll back gun-safety laws and abortion access; equivocated on same-sex marriage; and called Medicaid expansion, which provided health insurance for hundreds of thousands of Virginians, “sad.”
The most that can be said for Mr. Youngkin, a former private-equity executive, is that he might make a capable steward of Virginia’s economy. But even in that sphere, he offers no advantage over Mr. McAuliffe, a legendary dealmaker who showed himself to be a skilled and responsible steward of taxpayer funds and the state economy.
Even Republicans in Richmond privately admire Mr. McAuliffe’s salesmanship prowess. As governor, he made 35 trips overseas to drum up business and jobs — one every six weeks, on average — and dozens more domestically. His job-creating coups included luring Nestlé USA to transfer its U.S. headquarters to Rosslyn from California, and CoStar Group to Richmond from North Carolina. When he left office in January 2018, the state’s jobless rate of 3.6 percent was significantly below the national average.
Mr. McAuliffe’s economic wins were matched by policy achievements, all the more impressive given that he faced a GOP-controlled legislature. He ended an ugly vestige of Jim Crow by restoring voting rights to tens of thousands of former felons who had served their sentences. He notched an important victory for women in a bipartisan deal that criminalized gun possession by the thousands of domestic abusers served with protective orders annually. He negotiated a massive, privately financed expansion in traffic-clogged Northern Virginia’s highway capacity, which will pay dividends to commuters and others for decades.
In the current campaign, for which voting starts Friday and culminates Nov. 2, Mr. McAuliffe has proposed a sweeping, detailed agenda — a sharp contrast with Mr. Youngkin, who for months had almost no policy proposals beyond a commission to tighten rules on nearly nonexistent election fraud. The McAuliffe plan’s centerpiece is a $2 billion investment in education, which dovetails with his pro-business agenda; good schools attract good businesses.
In federal election years, Virginia has become a reliably blue state. In years like this, with no federal races on the ballot to juice turnout, all bets are off. It’s critical that Virginians recall that Mr. McAuliffe is a dynamic chief executive with a proven track record for advancing prosperity. Mr. Youngkin is an untested politician who would guide the state away from the moderation it has pursued, and profited from, for more than a decade. Electing him would be a grave error.