MANASSAS PARK, Va. — The weekend spurred plenty of enthusiasm with slightly more than one million Virginians casting their ballots early in a near dead-heat in the gubernatorial race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin.
Some of that spirit cascaded Saturday inside the Manassas Park Community Center when Youngkin asked how many voted early. Nearly half the crowd raised their hands.
“You can feel it everywhere. The momentum is huge,” he said. “It’s a defining moment where we can change the trajectory of this great Commonwealth. It’s my name on the ballot, but I want you to know that it’s every Virginian on the ballot with me.”
Recent polls show Youngkin either 1 percentage point behind or tied with McAuliffe as Election Day arrived Tuesday.
Besides some of the Virginia candidates on the ballot speaking on his behalf such as Republican attorney general candidate Jason Miyares, Youngkin has steered clear of campaigning with major political dignitaries.
But that didn’t stop former President Donald Trump from holding a tele-rally Monday in support of Youngkin, who didn’t participate. Trump released two statements earlier Monday encouraging voters who still haven’t cast their ballots to choose Youngkin.
“Everything is on the line in this election, and every MAGA voter should strongly support Glenn Youngkin,” Trump said. “We must win … by flooding the polls with those that believe in America first.”
McAuliffe, the Virginia governor from 2014 to 2018, has attempted to tie Youngkin to Trump, saying the former co-CEO of the Carlyle Group would incorporate conservative policies such as anti-abortion, oppose mandating masks in schools to protect children from COVID-19 and curtail voting rights.
“Donald Trump is out with yet another statement emphasizing his complete and total endorsement of Glenn Youngkin,” McAuliffe tweeted Monday. “He’s pulling out all the stops to win this race because he knows Glenn will advance his MAGA agenda here in [Virginia]. [Tuesday], VA will choose a better way.”
Some Virginia Republicans such as Tim Parrish said Youngkin provides a better alternative for minority communities such as school choice, ensuring workers are not forced into unions to protect the right to work and committed to “fully” funding for all five historically Black colleges and universities in the state.
“I’m Black and I’m supporting him. He’s hitting on all the issues that are important in our communities,” said Parrish, who chairs the Prince William County Republican Committee. “When you talk about the Black and Hispanic vote, I think Glenn Youngkin’s got it in the bag.”
Virginia’s separate ballot
Some political insiders viewed McAuliffe running as an incumbent because of his victory eight years ago. Virginia law doesn’t allow governors to run for reelection, but they can seek the office for a second, non-consecutive term.
Mark Rozell, a political science professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, said in an interview Monday several factors have made the gubernatorial race much closer than anticipated: President Joe Biden’s decreasing popularity, Democrats “inability to get things done” in Washington, D.C., despite control of the executive and legislative branches and the Democratic Party brand suffering.
“Terry McAuliffe had nothing to do with any of that and he has no control over any of that,” Rozell said. “But this larger, national political context has put heavy weight on the Democratic campaign in Virginia this year.”
Virginia and New Jersey are the only two states holding off-year elections in 2021, while the majority of states hold gubernatorial elections next year.
One of Virginia’s other election quirks is that the governor and lieutenant governor run separately, which theoretically could result in a Democratic governor and a Republican lieutenant governor, or vice versa.
U.S. presidential and gubernatorial candidates in states such as neighboring Maryland run on the same ticket. In addition, that person chooses a running mate.
Rozell said the Virginia legislature would need to change the constitution to make that happen.
He said both lieutenant governor candidates have limited legislative experience.
Democratic Del. Hala Ayala, who resides in Woodbridge in Prince William County, first ran for office in 2017.
Republican candidate Winsome Sears, of Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley, became the first Black woman in the GOP elected to the General Assembly 20 years ago. She ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2004 against longtime Rep. Bobby Scott.
A victory for Ayala or Sears on Tuesday would make state history as the first woman elected to the office and first woman of color.
“Separate ballot for governor and lieutenant governor has long existed in Virginia. It is a rather odd arrangement that should end,” Rozell said. “Very few people pay attention to the lieutenant governor race. You’re putting someone one heartbeat away from the governorship. Therefore, it really does matter.”