RICHMOND, Va. — Voters usually only care about governor races in their state. That is changing in 2021 for many across the country.
The governor races in Virginia and New Jersey are being closely watched as the outcome could impact strategy as Democrats and Republicans head toward the midterms in 2022.
UNDERSTANDING POLITICAL CLIMATE
It’s a tough time to understand how the American people truly feel about politics and our elected leaders
On one hand, President Joe Biden is saying his policy ideas are popular, but so far, most haven’t passed Congress.
On the other hand, former President Donald Trump is still holding rallies and talking about last year’s election.
You could read social media, watch cable news or read polling to find out, but a lot of Americans lack confidence in those things too.
So, how can we tell how the American people really feel about the state of our politics and Democrats being in charge? Elections.
New Jersey is holding an election on Nov. 2 as current Democratic Governor Philip Murphy takes on Republican Jack Ciattarelli.
But the off-year governor’s race more people seem to be paying attention to is in Virginia, between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin. Why is this attracting national attention?
“I know people may think that we read too much into Virginia, but you can see some themes emerge," said Tucker Martin, a political strategist in the state who has worked for multiple Republican campaigns over the years.
"What does politics in a purplish-blue state look like with Donald Trump gone," Martin said. "Joe Biden is in the White House, and his numbers are tanking."
Martin also says it will be one of the first major races anywhere where voters will have the chance to approve or disapprove of Democrats being in charge.
“A large part of this race is because of national factors,” Martin added.
Virginia is a state that President Joe Biden won by 10% last year. Yet this governor race is considered a toss-up.
If Republicans are able to flip it red for the first since 2009, it would be seen by some as a rejection of Democratic leadership.
Across the country, strategists are watching this closely too.
“I think there is no substitute for actually hearing from voters," said Melissa Bauldoff, a Democratic strategist in Wisconsin.
“I think we are all paying attention to this," said Chad Campbell, a Democratic strategist in Arizona.
Both Campbell and Bauldoff are in states far from Virginia, but both have big midterm elections next year and will be looking for who turns out and why.
They say the results will impact strategy nationwide for both parties, and it might even impact the infrastructure and spending bills proposed in Congress.
If Democrats lose, it could force them to change course.
“I’m sure it will change some folks' calculation if the outcome is not what they expected it to be,” Campbell said.
“I think a lot will change in a year. It’s still smart to learn what we can,” Bauldoff said.
Expect to hear more of the Virginia governor race in the coming days. Former President Barack Obama is hitting the campaign trail there this week. Former President Trump was called in to rally there last week.