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Virginia’s contest for governor could again offer clues to the nation’s political future

WASHINGTON – Virginia governor’s race has long held a unique place in the country’s political cycle as a key gauge of how political winds are blowing for Republicans and Democrats a year after the last presidential election and a year before the next mid-term of Congress.

In 2005, Democrat Tim Kaine’s victory after President George W. Bush’s re-election heralded the Democrats’ midterm victories a year later, as well as Barack Obama’s later triumph in the state, which the party no. had not worn in a presidential election since 1964..

In 2009, the victory of Republican Bob McDonnell provided a glimpse into the Tea Party revolt against the Democrats and the national success of the GOP a year later.

In 2013, Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s narrow victory demonstrated the limits of influence hard-line conservatives (like Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli) had in the state, but it also showed that Democratic performance was declining – which would come back to haunt the party in 2014 and 2016.

And in 2017, Democrat Ralph Northam’s success predicted Democratic primary voters’ preference for experienced and middle-of-the-road (hello, Joe Biden) candidates and suburban backlash against Donald Trump’s GOP.

It’s this story that makes this year’s governor run in Virginia a must-see contest over the next eight months, as at least five top Democratic contenders and four top Republicans compete to replace the banned Northam. to seek consecutive mandates.

The questions for Democrats are: Do their primary voters continue to pick safe, mid-way candidates for the general election? Or are they going in a different direction, with the potential to elect the first black woman governor of the state (and the country)? And can Democrats continue their political domination over the state?

For Republicans, the questions are: Can their candidates – a year after Biden’s presidency began – win back voters in the most important suburbs? And can they navigate the political currents of a party Trump still wants to control?

Are Democrats sticking to their standard playbook?

The diverse field of Democratic candidates resembles the party’s presidential primary field last year.

There’s McAuliffe, who has the perks of experience and money (he has more than four times the money on hand than his closest competitor, according to the latest campaign finance record).

There is State Senator Jennifer McClellan and former State Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, who are running as the first black woman governor of the state – and the country.

There’s Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who is running as the second black governor of Virginia, but who has been charged with sexual assault.

And there is the Del State. Lee Carter, a self-proclaimed socialist who co-chaired Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in Virginia a year ago.

Like Biden did last year, McAuliffe starts off as a favorite.

But also like in this primary contest, the other candidates will try to portray McAuliffe as representing the past – and they will argue that they represent the future and can attract more voters in a general election.

“I know this is not the time to step back into the past, but to step forward boldly into our future,” McClellan said in announcing his campaign.

And here is Carroll Foy in his ad: “For there to be a lead, there has to be someone willing to set it on fire. There has to be someone willing to put the lead on it. fire.”

Beyond his money and name identification, McAuliffe has an added advantage: he might need as little as 35% of the primary vote on June 8 to win in the crowded field.

McAuliffe “is opposed by three black candidates, plus a socialist,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

“If that doesn’t change by June, it’s a set-up for a McAuliffe plurality,” he said.

How the GOP contest differs from that of the Democrats

Unlike the Democrats, who have a primary in June, the state’s Republicans will choose their candidate at a convention on May 8 at the University of Liberty, where delegates will drive by and enter their picks for governor. , the lieutenant governor and the attorney general under a priority vote. (The party and Liberty are still working out the details of the convention.)

And unlike the Democratic candidate, the Republican winner will need a majority – not a plurality.

Virginia’s contest for governor could again offer clues to the nation’s political future

The main candidates are State Senator Amanda Chase; Del state. Kirk Cox, a former Speaker of the House; former candidate for lieutenant governor, businessman Pete Snyder; and businessman Glenn Youngkin, former co-CEO of the Carlyle Group.

The candidate who has made the most headlines – and controversy – is Chase, who described herself as “Trump in the heels” and was recently censored by the State Senate for calling the rioters the attack on the Capitol on January 6 by “patriots”.

Republican observers believe the convention will likely hurt Chase the most: While it’s easy to see how she could get a plurality in the first vote, it’s harder for her to get a majority with an order vote. priority. (In a crowded field, the candidate who is most likely to benefit from the priority vote is the one who is the overwhelming second choice among the congressmen.)

And Chase expressed his displeasure that Republicans across the state opted for a convention.

“I would like the VA GOP State Central Committee to answer a question. 1,962,430 voters voted for President Trump in Virginia. How are you going to welcome these people who will want to vote for our candidates statewide? ” she tweeted last month after the State party formally approved its plan to hold a convention.

Can Republicans improve on their recent record?

Virginia has only become more democratic since Bush won it in the 2004 presidential contest.

Of the top 14 statewide contests since then – for President, Senate and Governor – Democrats have won 13. The exception was McDonnell’s victory in the governor’s race in 2009.

But recent Democrat dominance clashes with another impressive record: Since the 1970s, the party that just won the White House has consistently lost the governor’s contest the following year – with one exception: the narrow victory. by McAuliffe in 2013.

Observers say if Biden stumbles, if Republicans end up with a candidate who isn’t toxic in the suburbs, and Trump keeps his fingerprints out of the race, the GOP has a chance of winning in November.

“If Larry Hogan can win in Maryland and if Charlie Baker can win in Massachusetts, a Republican can win in Virginia,” said Tucker Martin, a longtime Republican strategist in Virginia, referring to GOP governors in those states. democratic tendency.

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