With just one week to go until Election Day in Virginia, the gubernatorial showdown between former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin is deadlocked, according to a new poll.
McAuliffe, who’s running for his old job, stands at 45.6% support among likely voters in Virginia, with first-time candidate Youngkin at 45.2%, in a USA Today/Suffolk University survey released on Tuesday. The razor thin margin between the two major party candidates means the closely watched race with plenty of national implications ahead of next year’s midterm elections remains all tied up.
The USA Today/Suffolk University poll, which was conducted Thursday through Sunday, is the fourth straight survey to suggest the race is deadlocked in a state that President Biden carried by 10 points last November and where Republicans haven’t won statewide in a dozen years.
David Paleologos, the director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, termed the high-profile showdown a “dead heat” and said that “it’s down to turnout” as both parties try to get their base voters to the polls.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe arrives for a rally in Richmond, Va., Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. McAuliffe will face Republican Glenn Youngkin in the November election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
The poll points to the expected partisan divide, with 95% of Democrats backing McAuliffe and 94% of Republicans supporting Youngkin. The survey indicates Youngkin holding an 11-point edge among independent voters.
Forty-percent of those surveyed said that jobs and the economy was the most pressing issue, with education, at 23%, the second most important issue in the election.
Youngkin has made defending the right of parents when dealing with their children’s education a major closing theme of his campaign. And his campaign and allied Republican groups have been relentlessly spotlighting a major verbal gaffe by McAuliffe. During the second and final debate between the two candidates McAuliffe, who’s made improving the state’s schools a key part of his campaign, said “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
According to the new poll, 50% of those questioned said parents should have more influence on a school’s curriculum, with 39% school boards should have the greater say.
The poll’s release came hours before McAuliffe was set to campaign with the president in heavily blue and voter rich Northern Virginia. The survey indicates Biden at 42% approval and 52% disapproval among commonwealth voters.
FILE – In this Oct. 11, 2021, file photo Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin talks to supporters during a meet and greet at a sports bar in Chesapeake, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File) (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)
The survey indicates Youngkin, who spent a quarter century as a private equity firm executive, topping McAuliffe 56%-38% among White voters, with the former governor winning Black voters by an 81%-6% margin.
Paleologos told Fox News that come Election Day “if the Black vote is 20% of the total vote or higher, that puts McAuliffe in the driver’s seat. If the Black vote is between 16%-18%, then Youngkin’s poised to win.” According to the poll, Black voters made up 19.6% of those surveyed.
The pollster also pointed to the 1.8% support in the survey for third party candidate Princess Blanding, who’s an African American criminal justice reform activist who’s on the ballot as the gubernatorial candidate for the Liberation Party of Virginia.
“Blanding’s 1.8% is not enough to matter under normal circumstances, but because this race is polling so close, that 1.8% far exceeds the margin between the top two candidates,” Paleologos noted. “Her presence on the ballot could impact the outcome.”
Virginia and New Jersey are the only two states to hold gubernatorial contests in the year after a presidential election, ensuring they get outsized attention from coast to coast.
There’s a long-running trend of voters in the commonwealth defeating the gubernatorial nominee of the party that controls the White House. McAuliffe broke with that tradition in 2013 with his election as governor in the year after Obama was reelected. McAuliffe was unable to run for reelection in 2017 because Virginia governors are barred from serving two straight terms.
While New Jersey’s a predominantly blue state, Virginia remains very competitive, as is seen as a key bellwether ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. The close contest for governor has national Democrats on edge as they defend their razor-thin majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate in next year’s contests. If Youngkin defeats McAuliffe, there will be a surge in Democratic anxiety regarding their fate in the midterms.