The RCP average shows the Virginia gubernatorial race a virtual tie going into next Tuesday’s election. In less than a month, Republican Ed Gillespie has gone from trailing Democrat Ralph Northam by 6.5 points to trailing him by a mere point. Worse for Northam, of the last three polls taken, two show a tie and one shows Gillespie up by 3.
If you’re worried, you should be, and not just because of the recent polling. Of the last three elections, two of them showed the Democrat underperforming the polling average. For instance, in 2014, Democrat Mark Warner beat Gillespie by less than a point, despite an RCP average that showed him ahead by almost double digits. And in 2013, Democrat Terry McAuliffe beat Ken Cuccinelli by a mere 2.5 points, 3.5 points below where he was projected to win. Only the 2016 presidential election lived up to expectations. The RCP average showed Clinton ahead of Trump by 5.3 points going into the election; she wound up beating him by 5.4 points. Given that this is an off-year election, if the trend holds, Gillespie should win by around 2.5 points.
It isn’t just the fact that Democrats tend to underperform in non-presidential election years that makes me pessimistic; my main concern is what I’ve been seeing throughout the country and, if I’m right, Democrats could get their clocks cleaned in next year’s midterms. The cultural polarization that has been sweeping the country is now all but complete. What Trump managed to pull off on a national level last November has trickled down to the state and local levels. There is virtually no purple left in the country. The cities remain blue; everything else is solid red.
While Trump is very unpopular on a national level, the regions of the country where he is popular – mostly the rural areas and exurbs – geographically outnumber the rest of the country by a wide margin. Even more disturbing is that while Democrats poll well in the cities and modestly well in the suburbs, Republicans are polling consistently stronger everywhere else. That is the main reason Democrats lost both the South Carolina and Georgia special elections this year. Put succinctly, there just aren’t enough Democratic votes in blue counties to offset the Republican votes in red counties.
A breakdown of the last three elections underscores the problem Democrats have. In 2016, Clinton got 64 percent of the vote in Fairfax County and won the state by 5.4 points. By comparison, Warner in 2014 and McAuliffe in 2013 got 57 percent and 58 percent of the vote respectively in Fairfax. Both eked out narrow victories in their elections. In my opinion, Northam needs to get at least 60 percent of the vote in Fairfax this Tuesday or Gillespie will win.
Virginia, for all intents and purposes, has become this year’s bellwether election. If the Dems hold it, even if by a narrow margin, they can use the momentum to go forward into next year’s midterms. But if they lose it, all bets are off. Call me a Debbie downer, but I think the latter is in the offing.
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