Democrat Terry McAuliffe is hoping he can use anti-Trump fervor to become Virginia's next governor

Democrat Terry McAuliffe is hoping he can use anti-Trump fervor to become Virginia's next governor
Terry McAuliffe in 2013, Wikimedia Commons

Virginia, once a deep red state, has arguably turned into the United States' most Democrat-friendly southern state. But a recent Monmouth University poll on Virginia's 2021 gubernatorial race found Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin in a dead heat. And CNN pundit Harry Enten, in an article published this week, argues that if Youngkin loses, former President Donald Trump could be key factor.

Youngkin has attempted a balancing act with his campaign, trying to paint himself as a moderate conservative but without saying or doing anything to offend Trump and his MAGA voters. Virginia's gubernatorial nominee hasn't been as stridently pro-Trump as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, but he is far from an overtly anti-Trump Republican like Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker or Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, who endorsed now-President Joe Biden in the 2020 election. Youngkin is a Trump ally, although he has avoided being really in-your-face about it.

McAuliffe, however, has been slamming Youngkin for being pro-Trump, emphasizing that he is hardly the moderate conservative he is pretending to be.

"You can see the Trump dynamic playing out in real time on the campaign trail," Enten writes. "Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe has repeatedly tried to tie Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin to the former President, both in his speeches and ads. Youngkin is walking a fine line, leaning into some of Trump's rhetoric to help boost Republican turnout, but also, distancing himself on certain issues and playing up hyperlocal issues to appeal to the center of the electorate."

Virginia's political landscape is much different from what it was 30 or 35 years ago. The Virginia of the 1980s and 1990s was deep red, but now, the southern state has a Democratic governor (Ralph Northam), two Democratic U.S. senators (Tim Kaine and Mark Warner), and a Democrat-controlled state legislature. Moreover, Virginia has gone Democratic in the last four presidential elections: 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020. Yet there is a very real possibility that Youngkin will defeat McAuliffe on Tuesday, November 2, and Enten stresses that McAuliffe is linking Youngkin to Trump in the hope of preventing that from happening.

Trump, Enten notes, is "deeply unpopular" in Virginia, where a recent Fox News poll found that his net favorability rating is -18 among registered voters and -9 among likely voters.

Enten explains, "Trump continues to cast a shadow in a way I'm not sure we fully appreciate…. Trump being this much in the spotlight probably hurts Republicans more than it helps."

Almost a year after Trump's defeat in the 2020 election, he continues to be an incredibly divisive, polarizing figure who is absolutely detested by his critics but is still adored by his hardcore MAGA base — especially in red states, where most Republicans are afraid to say a word against him publicly (major exceptions: Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah). Virginia, however, is far from the deep red state it once was.

"If Youngkin ends up emerging with a win in Virginia, it's going to be tough for people to argue that Trump is hurting Republicans that much," Enten observes. "If, on the other hand, McAuliffe is the victor, it will likely lead to plenty of discussion about whether it's good for Republicans to continue to have Trump this present on the political scene."

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