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Opinion Is this Terry McAuliffe’s last hurrah?

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, left, and Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin shake hands at the conclusion of the final debate between the two candidates in Alexandria, Va., on Sept. 28. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

There are many reasons to vote for Republican Glenn Youngkin in the Virginia governor’s race, now less than a month away. In fact, I’ve already voted for him, and did so in one of the efficient and secure early voting venues in populous Northern Virginia, where Youngkin, to win, has to keep the contest with former Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe close.

Can Youngkin do it? The signs point to a Republican upset. Youngkin, 54, is a new face in politics (always an advantage), a product of Richmond and Virginia Beach, and a graduate of Rice University, which he attended on a basketball scholarship. After a stint as a banker, it was off to Harvard for an MBA and then a long career at Washington’s Carlyle Group, the investment bank where he eventually became co-CEO. Youngkin left Carlyle to run for governor in September 2020, and surprised many by dispatching all rivals in the Republican primary contest.

McAuliffe, 64, and governor from 2014 to 2018, wants his old job back. It appeared to be his for the taking nine months ago in the aftermath of President Biden’s win, but polls now show the race tied. McAuliffe hasn’t been helped by the talk in Congress of Democratic-led tax hikes and the Biden-led bug-out from Afghanistan — nor have the president’s plummeting approval ratings been kind — but if he loses this contest, his own mistakes will share the blame.

The race is likely to come down to suburban moms around Washington, D.C., who supported Biden over Donald Trump in 2020 but who are not lining up for McAuliffe in the same numbers. The Youngkin campaign maintains that these voters are restive after 18 months of covid, skeptical of critical race theory and opposed to the state’s mask mandates for K-12 schools.

Nor has McAuliffe been helped by his aggressive campaign tactics. Post fact-checkers have found that a McAuliffe ad falsely claimed Youngkin “took over” predatory dental clinics while in business; that McAuliffe’s claim that Youngkin “wants to ban abortion” is false; that another McAuliffe ad slices and dices Youngkin’s comments in a misleading way; and that McAuliffe was incorrect when he argued that, as governor nearly a decade ago, “I inherited the largest budget deficit in the history of the state from the Republicans.”

McAuliffe’s biggest faceplant came in the second of two debates, when Youngkin alleged that McAuliffe failed to understand that some Virginia parents oppose materials in schools that discuss gender fluidity. In a back-and-forth with Youngkin about whether parents should be allowed to review — or veto — books in school libraries, McAuliffe said out loud: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

That quip goes into the Hall of Fame of Political Blunders — and alone might be enough to take McAuliffe down and put Youngkin in charge of the Old Dominion.

A week later, in another session with journalists, McAuliffe refused to back away from his gaffe and embarrassed himself by refusing repeatedly to define critical race theory.

My gut tells me McAuliffe is headed for the exit after 40 years in the business. But three weeks is an eternity in politics. And, as Virginia is a battleground state in presidential years, the importance of the race is hard to overstate.