As Goes Virginia…?

Virginians head to the polls today in the first major bellwether of next year’s midterm elections, while President Biden struggles to push through landmark legislation on the other side of the Potomac. 

Polls suggest former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s razor-thin lead against Republican former Carlyle Group co-CEO Glenn Youngkin has tightened with over 1.1 million votes already cast in the off-year gubernatorial election.

Here’s what election watchers should keep in mind: 

The days of Election Night results may be over. The 45-day early- and absentee-voting period— no excuse needed— has proven popular among Virginians even as the pandemic ebbs. But because of mail delays and the expectation of a slim margin of victory for the winning candidate, it could take up to a week for the results to be announced. 

The stakes for Democrats are high at a delicate moment. Virginia went blue in presidential voting in 2008 and hasn’t looked back since. But polls showing President Biden’s latest approval rating at 42% is lower than any other modern first-year president’s around the same time (except for Trump). A Republican victory could signal danger for Democrats in the midterms at a time when they’re already struggling to pass legislation with a slim majority in both Houses of Congress. 

The outcome of the election could impact Hill negotiations. Progressives have softened their tone in the last 24 hours, possibly assuming a loss in Virginia will sour moderates on a big package and diminish their leverage. This explains their greater flexibility in the last day or so on vote scheduling and probably on substance as well. It’s still possible a package could come together later this week.

Whither the suburbs? Democrats’ growing strength in Virginia has come primarily in the populous Washington, D.C. suburbs, where voters have gradually drifted from the GOP in recent years. A strong showing for Youngkin in those areas could offer a template for Republicans nationally on how to win back suburban voters, especially women.