In ‘deep blue’ Virginia, the race for governor is too close to call

Virginia goes to polls on Tuesday to elect its new governor. The ‘deep blue’ state is seeing a neck-and-neck race between Democratic hopeful Terry McAuliffe and Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin. Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield reports on what this race tells us about what may be a political myth about red and blue “walls.”

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    On Tuesday, voters will choose governors in New Jersey and Virginia and make decisions on hundreds of local issues including mayors in New York and Boston. It's a very close race in Virginia where Democrat Terry Mcauliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin are running to replace the current democratic governor in what analysts consider a "deep blue" state.

    So would a Republican victory spell impending doom for Democrats in next year's midterms? Or would a democratic victory mean former president trump has less influence than republicans seemingly count on? Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins us now for a look at one of the enduring myths about current politics—the myth of "the wall."

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Hari, one of the reasons Democrats are so unsettled about this very close race is that Virginia has in recent years become a reliably blue state. Biden won it by 10 points last year. Virginia hasn't sent a Republican to the Senate since 2002, the last two governors of a Democratic, and they control both houses of the state legislature. But if you look at history, you might find that what passed may not be prolog, not in Virginia and maybe not anywhere else.

    When Virginia voted for Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, it marked the beginning of an almost unbroken run of Republican victories. For 36 years, only Lyndon Johnson's 1964 landslide broke the string; even southerners Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton couldn't win there.

    But over time, a steady migration of college-educated white-collar voters moved into Northern Virginia, changing the demographics of the state.

    When Barack Obama comfortably won the state in 2008, it marked the beginning of an unbroken run of Democratic wins; the "red wall" had crumbled.

    That's just one of a host of examples where the certainties of past election seasons erode and then vanish. California was once one of the most reliably Republican states; From 1952 through 1988, it went to Democrats only once in ten presidential elections; and put Republicans into the statehouse and the U.S. Senate regularly.

    Then Bill Clinton won California in 1992; a shift away from Republicans' anti-immigration views and an increase in liberal-minded college-educated voters triggered a collapse of the Republican Party. Hillary Clinton carried the state by more than 4 million votes; Joe Biden by more than 5 million votes. Republicans do not hold a single statewide office.

    But the myth of the red and blue walls is bipartisan. Throughout the 2016 campaign, Democrats were confident that Hillary Clinton would prevail because of the "blue wall" in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. They had voted Democratic for six straight elections.

    But that year, all three went to Donald Trump by narrow margins; helping him to win the White House. Last year, Biden won all three by narrow margins, making the blue wall there now, 'purple.'

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So, Jeff, what is threatening the wall in Virginia?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    One of what's threatening is that it turns out there's another myth about politics that may be eroded the, Tip O'Neill's famous line that 'all politics is local.' Well, education has become a big issue in Virginia—what what's taught in schools—that's part of a nationwide move about masks, about vaccines, about elites controlling lives. The other point is Joe Biden's approval ratings, which, according to The Washington Post this morning, down to 42 percent, threatens enthusiasm and turnout among Democrats. If there's a sense that they're not doing well, it means that what they need in terms of a large turnout on Tuesday may not be forthcoming.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So what about Terry McAuliffe trying to make this almost a referendum on Donald Trump, the man who's already out of office. If Terry McAuliffe loses, does this give Donald Trump and his supporters a little bit more ammunition to say maybe he should be the candidate in '24?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    That, in fact, is what McAuliffe is counting on. His basic argument is, you, if my opponent wins, it empowers the Trumpists around the country, which is also why the Republican candidate, X, has been trying to do a kind of dance away day and say nice things about Trump, not appearing with him, and trying to make sure for suburban voters who've been turned off about Trump, 'I'm not him.' So that's another way that a national, a national issue, or a national matter comes in and tends to dominate a state race like Virginia.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Regardless of who wins, there is still history to be made here.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    As it turns out, both candidates for lieutenant governor reflect the kind of different kind of demographics in Virginia. Virginia will either elect an Afro-Latina woman or a black woman as lieutenant governor. That happens, by the way, that will happen 32 years after Virginia became the first state to elect a black governor, Doug Wilder. So there's a kind of almost a generation later, we're seeing another change in how our stereotypical view of Virginia might need some editing.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Jeff Greenfield joining us from Santa Barbara, California, tonight. Thanks so much.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Good to be with you, Hari.

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