When Terry McAuliffe declared for governor last December, Democrats in and out of Virginia saw him as a slam duck winner over Republican Glenn Youngkin. Mr. McAuliffe sees himself as the once and future Governor of Virginia, but the voters of the Commonwealth may shatter that vision on November 2nd.
As the election approaches, his once-formidable lead has evaporated, and pollsters view the race as a dead heat as first-time candidate Mr. Youngkin has demonstrated a better grasp of Virginia’s problems and is a solid campaigner.
Deservedly or not, Virginia’s gubernatorial contests are watched closely as a harbinger of each party’s prospects in the national mid-term elections a year later. This year’s Virginia election takes on added significance because the balance of power in Congress is razor-thin. Virginia has been reliably Democratic lately, and Mr. McAuliffe’s loss of the governor’s seat would be viewed as increasing the growing possibility of a midterm disaster that might cost Democrats control of both houses of Congress while setting the stage for a Republican presidential victory in 2024.
As a result, Democrats have pulled out all the stops and cast prudence to the winds to rescue Mr. McAuliffe’s unexpectedly floundering campaign. Money is flowing into the state from all over the country. The President’s press secretary has endorsed him from the White House podium in violation of the Hatch Act. Other Administration officials hurriedly scheduled campaign trips just south of DC. Mrs. Biden, former President Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris, and every other national Democrat have stumped for Mr. McAuliffe.
Even President Joe Biden, from whom Mr. McAuliffe spent weeks trying to separate himself, came to the Commonwealth. It means the Democrats have to figure that if Mr. McAuliffe goes down, at least they will be able to say they did everything they could to save him. If he somehow manages to survive, the President himself can take credit. That they could lose a state that Democrats have carried in three consecutive national elections has Democrats in the Senate and House on edge. Congressional members will try to put more distance between themselves and their President if Mr. Younkin wins, so Mr. Biden has little to risk and a lot to gain.
Mr. Biden may be part of Mr. McAuliffe’s problem. However, Mr. McAuliffe’s campaign has avoided real issues and hopes to win by constantly warning that his opponent is a clone of Donald J. Trump and that the world as we know it will end if Mr. Youngkin wins.
Exploiting partisan hatred of one’s political foes can excite the faithful but is rarely enough to win an election. Voters, even in this negative age, want to vote for something. Mr. McAuliffe has attacked Mr. Youngkin for not repudiating Mr. Trump’s insistence that Democrats stole the 2020 election as divisive while continuing to claim Republicans stole the 2000 election that put George H.W. Bush in the White House.
And while denouncing “fake news” and “disinformation,” Mr. McAuliffe has changed the headlines of news stories then used the altered stories in his campaign ads to attack his opponent. This undermines Mr. McAuliffe’s claims of senior statesman status he has tried to project and ranks high on the hypocrisy meter. Indeed, his performance of late is making voters realize that he is no statesman but a hyperpartisan former party chairman who made his bones by sycophantically supporting and raising funds for Bill and Hillary Clinton, who is losing his grip on reality as disaster looms.
Poll after poll has shown that Virginia Democrats are less interested in Mr. McAuliffe’s prospects than the hoard of national Democrats rushing to prop him up. Like his President and Party, Mr. McAuliffe doesn’t live in the same world as voters do. This was strikingly displayed a few weeks ago when he walked out of a Washington television interview. The reporter asked him to clarify his debate claim that parents shouldn’t have a say in what their kids are taught and what he would do to combat rising crime in Virginia.
As he left, Mr. McAuliffe said the interviewer should have asked “better” questions … “questions your viewers care about.” This month, a Monmouth poll reported that 41% of all Virginia voters list education as one of the top two issues they care about. The other is crime.
The striking thing about the world outside Washington today is that the problems people outside the Washington beltway see as serious are dismissed here as inconsequential, mean-spirited or evidence of ignorance. Inflation, the crisis on our southern border, the inability to find people willing to work, rising crime and the “woke” assault on education are problems that aren’t taken seriously by a Washington establishment. The President and his friends in Congress seem more interested in mask mandates, raising taxes, climate change, transgender rights, and massive increases in federal spending.
Terry McAuliffe is what he’s always been …. a proud and increasingly angry member of the national Democratic hierarchy. He and his fellow enlightened progressives may be about to discover that Virginia voters neither live in nor find their fantasy world very appealing.
• David Keene is editor-at-large at the Washington Times.
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