The first year of the Biden Presidency will be marked by two Gubernatorial Elections, one in Virginia, where the incumbent Governor can't run for a second term, and New Jersey, where Governor Murphy (D-NJ) is running for re-election. These two electoral races could give us a clue as to what will happen in the 2022 midterms. Both contests are scheduled to happen on November, 2.
Virginia: context, candidates, party primaries, and rating.
Ralph Northam (D-VA) is finishing up his term in office as Governor of Virginia and can't run for re-election due to the State Constitution, which prohibits sitting Governors from running for a consecutive second term. Former Governor Terry McAuliffe (D-VA), which was elected in an upset in 2013 against then-favorite Ken Cuccinelli (R-VA), has launched his bid to be Northam's successor. On the Republican side, Glenn Youngkin, former Carlyle CEO, has been chosen as nominee.
Who are the candidates?
Terry McAuliffe, 64, businessman and politician, is a member of the Democratic Party. He has been 1996 Bill Clinton re-election campaign co-chair, chair of the Democratic National Committee for four years, chair of Hillary Clinton's 2008 Presidential campaign, Governor of Virginia from 2014 to 2018, and chair of the National Governor Association. Quite an impressive record. McAuliffe has seen a certain degree of popularity during his term as Governor, especially since, while in office, he collaborated with Republicans, who controlled both the State Chambers. Even though he is closely tied to the Clintons and the moderate wing of the party, he has seen his approval among progressives rise after his criticism against Gov. Northam in 2019.
Now, Terry McAuliffe is running not such a brilliant campaign as he is not pushing Virginians on the fact that he already was Governor and that he's the experienced candidate who knows how to lead the state into the future. At the contrary, the main message of his campaign seems to be that, his opponent Glenn Youngkin, is dangerous and closely tied to former President Trump, which is preposterous. It's a legitimate political tactic but it's clear to Virginians that Youngkin isn't a Trump-like populist.
Glenn Youngkin, 54, is a businessman and member of the Republican Party. He was born in Richmond and has obtained a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering and a Bachelor of Arts in managerial studies. Youngkin is a classical Republican: pro-gun, fiscal conservative, and pro-life. He has received support from the National Rifle Association, and the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. As stated in an interview he doesn't believe that Biden stole the election but it's his opinion that voting security measures, like the voter ID, are necessary.
His campaign is focused on economic policies, taxes, and the incompetency of the Northam-McAuliffe administrations.
What happened in the primaries?
In the Democratic Primaries that were held a couple of weeks ago, Terry McAuliffe easily cruised to the nomination as expected, as progressive candidates couldn't really offer an alternative and had mostly low name recognition across Virginia. He carried 62.10% of the votes, winning every county. His main opponent, Jennifer Carroll Foy, got just 19.81% of the votes, with the other candidates winning less than 15% of the votes.
The Republican Party of Virginia decided, by a vote, to hold a convention instead of a primary, in which delegates from all the state would vote the nominee on a ranked-choice voting system. This convention is a result of salty battle between the state GOP and Amanda Chase, state senator and failed Republican gubernatorial candidate. While the party had already decided that the nomination would have been awarded at a convention, the Senator insisted that she wanted a primary to take place, arriving to the point were she sued the state party and threatened them to run as an Independent Trump-like candidate. She then backed down and decided to present herself to the convention awarding process, where she arrived third. Glenn Youngkin arrived first in the first preference votes with 32.9%, followed by Pete Snyder at 25.8% and Amanda Chase at 20.8%. In round 5 Chase was eliminated and Snyder and Youngkin proceded to the last turn, where Youngkin won a majority of the delegates with 54.7% of the votes.
Virginia has become a very difficult state for Republicans to win in. With time, the Washington D.C. suburbs, the Alexandria-Fairfax-Loudoun-Arlington area, has expanded significantly and has become more democratic over time as the GOP shifted right. It is with Trump that these counties abandoned their traditional Republican leaning and became Likely-Safe Democratic enclaves. Due to all of this, Republicans can now count only on rural areas, which are not nearly enough for them to win. Former President Donald Trump lost the state by 10 points, Republicans lost the majority in both the chambers and even on the Congressional level it has become hard for the GOP to win Virginia's competitive seats (see Spanberger). It is most election experts opinion that these horrible electoral performance were and still are Donald Trump's fault.
At the same time though, Republicans are known for their very good state level results. They have in fact the ability, with good candidates, to win blue states like Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maryland. Youngkin could be the right candidate for this but I still don't see a Republican flip happening at a state-level electoral contest in Virginia. The race will be competitive anyway, though it is more probable for McAuliffe to take the edge and win the election, due to all of the reasons listed before. These are the ratings given by me and other three organizations:
The Cook Political Report: Lean D
Inside Elections: Likely D
Sabato's Crystal Ball: Lean D
My rating: Lean D
McAuliffe 51.5% (+4.6%)
Alessandro B. Carelli