By Steve Peoples, The Associated Press
A Republican hasn’t won statewide office in Virginia since 2009. Biden won Virginia by 10 percentage points last year.
But it’s less than a week before Election Day and the polls are virtually tied.
Publicly, Terry McAuliffe is confident in his campaign against Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin, but there are Democrats who are openly contemplating the possibility of a worst-case scenario on Nov. 2.
Internally, there is fear that they may have overestimated voters’ desire for an experienced politician. McAuliffe’s prior experience as governor and in the Democratic National Committee was thought to be an asset when he got into the race. In a political environment that continues to favor outsiders, the campaign is no longer sure. Some allies also worry that McAuliffe’s focus on former President Donald Trump may not energize voters in the same way it did when he was in office.
“Everybody is nervous,” said Abbi Easter, who lives in the Richmond suburbs and sits on the state Democratic Party’s steering committee.
A McAuliffe loss on Tuesday would likely trigger panic among Democrats. For Republicans, it would be a burst of confidence and a roadmap for finding their way through post-Trump divisions ahead of 2022 midterm elections, which will decide control of Congress and dozens of state capitals.
McAuliffe’s team points to the drag of Biden’s weakened standing among Virginia voters, a shift that began in August after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
One McAuliffe aide said Republicans are more excited about scoring a dramatic upset that would send a message to the country than Democrats are about preserving the status quo.
McAuliffe’s first event on Wednesday in the southern edge of the state drew fewer than 40 people.
Donald Trump may be about to give Democrats an unexpected burst of energy, however.
The former president issued a statement yesterday afternoon indicating he may visit Virginia “soon.” Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich followed up with a statement reminding voters that Trump has endorsed Youngkin, adding, “President Trump looks forward to being back in Virginia! Details will be released when appropriate.”
Privately, however, the Youngkin campaign indicated that Trump would not be campaigning in Virginia before Election Day.
Each candidate has raised more than $58 million in the election so far, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. The combined $117 million raised nearly doubled the previous record for a Virginia governor’s election. Youngkin, a wealthy former private equity executive, has lent his campaign $20 million from his personal fortune, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Youngkin outraised McAuliffe this month, but McAuliffe outspend Youngkin.
McAuliffe’s mostly uses his fundraising haul to focus on national issues — specifically, Trump — instead of his accomplishments while governor. His television commercials, which is how most voters interact with the campaign, have most recently been aimed at tying Youngkin to Trump and the GOP’s push to curtail abortion rights.
Easter said it remains to be seen whether Democrats can still win by embracing an anti-Trump message now that he is no longer in office.
“I’ll know Nov. 3,” she said.
State Democratic Party Chair Susan Swecker acknowledged her personal anxiety while on a bus tour this week designed to energize Democratic voters.
“You know how we get. I do this, too,” she said. “We wring our hands a little bit. Look, we always knew this was going to be a tough race, right? We got a lot on the line here.”