Ex-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe holds a narrow lead in the November gubernatorial election in the state that could prove a test of Democratic voters’ enthusiasm a year after former President Donald Trump lost the White House, a new poll showed.
The survey from Monmouth University found McAuliffe leading Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin, 47% to 42% among registered voters.
But like in next month’s California recall race, where Democrats are fretting that unenthusiastic voters could doom Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in a reliably blue state, the Virginia poll also contains warning signs that Democrat voters are less engaged than Republicans, Politico noted.
The poll found Youngkin did better when more irregular voters were included and that he overperformed the former governor among voters who described themselves as “more enthusiastic” about this race compared with past gubernatorial contests — roughly a quarter of the electorate, Politico reported.
“Republicans are a little more excited than Democrats this year. The question is whether this enthusiasm turns out enough low-propensity Youngkin supporters to close the gap,” Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said in a statement.
The Monmouth poll suggests a closer race than Virginia’s last gubernatorial contest in 2017, when now-Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam beat Republican Ed Gillespie by about 9 points. It’s also tighter than last year’s presidential election, when Joe Biden carried Virginia by 10 points.
Other recent public polling in the state has generally found McAuliffe leading, although margins have varied from a near-tie to a wider lead. Polling in 2017 generally found the race to be closer than Northam’s ultimate margin of victory, Politico noted.
The Monmouth poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Virginia has been viewed as a test of a sitting president’s political standing — and often a negative one. Over the last four decades, the off-year election in Virginia has cut against the party that controls the White House, with McAuliffe’s own narrow win in 2013 being the lone exception to that trend, Politico reported.
Democrats in both Virginia and California, meanwhile, have cast the respective contests as a vote on Trump’s legacy in politics. Newsom’s “Stop the Republican Recall” committee heavily references Trump, Politico reported.
Virginia Democrats regularly tie Youngkin to Trump, highlighting that the former president has endorsed the Republican. A McAuliffe fundraising email sent Tuesday, before the release of the Monmouth poll, came with the subject line “Trump is on the ballot right here in Virginia,” Politico reported.
But the Monmouth poll suggests Trump and Biden’s effect on the race could be a wash: 46% of the electorate said that Biden will be either a major or minor factor in how they vote in the gubernatorial election this year; 41% say the same about Trump.
Early in-person voting begins in Virginia Sept. 17.
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