The closely-watched race for governor in Virginia is heating up — with good signs for Republicans.
Virginia is one of two states that has elections every year, and its gubernatorial elections are always the year after presidential elections, so they are viewed as important bellwethers for how the president is doing. This year, all indications are that it’s a dead heat — which is actually a good sign for Republican nominee Ed Gillespie. Let me explain.
Virginia has turned from a red state to a purple or light blue state in the last 10 years, driven by growth of the liberal Washington, D.C., suburbs. Northern Virginia is to the rest of Virginia as New York City is to the rest of New York — vastly different. While traditionally blue states went red in 2016, Hillary Clinton won Virginia 50 percent to 44 percent. And as Trump’s poll numbers tanked soon after he took office, analysts expected the Democrat nominee for governor, Ralph Northam, to have a relatively easy cruise to victory.
But it hasn’t turned out that way. Republican Ed Gillespie is a tremendous candidate, with a genuine personality, inspiring story, clear message, and a smart campaign. (He ran for Senate in 2014 and was expected to lose in a landslide; instead, he lost by less than a point.)
Democrat Ralph Northam, on the other hand, has no real message. The only thing he’s offered is more of the “resist Trump” rhetoric that may resonate in big cities but nowhere else. As a veteran and a pediatrician, he is trying to simultaneously play the nice-doctor role and the unapologetic liberal activist role. But it isn’t working.
The proof? Several recent polls have come out showing the race is either tied or Northam has a slight lead within the margin of error. However, this might actually mean Gillespie has a slight lead. Let me explain again.
We’ve seen polls fail miserably time after time. They were dead wrong in last year’s presidential election — the best in the business, FiveThirtyEight, on election day gave Hillary Clinton a 99 percent chance of winning — and they have been dead wrong in recent elections in Virginia. In the week before election day in 2013, polls gave Democrat Terry McAuliffe a 7 to 10 point lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli; McAuliffe ended up winning by just over 2 points. In 2014, polls gave Democrat Mark Warner a 10 point lead over Ed Gillespie; Warner ended up winning by less than 1 point.
Gillespie has said on the campaign trail, “Polls are not intended to predict elections, they’re intended to influence them.” These polls oversample Democrats — meaning more Democrats are included in the polls than Republicans, instead of an even split. And if the polls in 2013 and 2014 gave the Democrat leads of 7 to 10 points when the actual margin was 1 to 2 points, what does that mean if Northam is only leading by 4 points?
The Democrats’ relentless push further into the dark depths of identity politics — as we’ve seen recently with the NFL controversy — is hurting Northam. Gillespie is airing an ad hammering Northam for voting against a bill to ban sanctuary cities in Virginia, where MS-13 has a real presence. The Democrats’ only response has been “You bigot!” Virginians don’t appear to be buying that demagoguery.
And in another sign of the real state of the race, Gillespie has accepted 10 debate invitations while Northam has only agreed to 3. Like national Democrats, Northam has no real message and can only resort to name-calling and dodging questions.
The media thought Virginia would be a referendum on Trump. It looks like it’s going to be a referendum on Democrats’ hysteria.
Photo credit: cool revolution/Gage Skidmore via Flickr