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Virginia's gubernatorial race has captured national attention because of a dead heat in a state President Joe Biden won by 10 points. Its results could provide insight into what's to come in next year's midterms. Jessica Taylor, senate and governors editor for The Cook Political Report, joins Judy Woodruff with more on Virginia, and New Jersey's gubernatorial race.
Voters went to the polls today to cast ballots in a number of contests across the country. Two are races for governor, in New Jersey and Virginia, and the latter has especially captured national attention because of its closeness in a state that President Biden won by 10 points.
To walk us through what to look for tonight, I'm joined by Jessica Taylor, Senate and governors editor for The Cook Political Report.
Jessica, very good to have you with us on this Election Day, as the results are coming in. And, in fact, we do have early exit numbers to look at.
But, before we do that, what has made this Virginia contest as watchable as it's been and apparently as close as it is?
Jessica Taylor, The Cook Political Report:
Well, this has been traditionally a bellwether the year after a presidential election.
And going back to the '70s, typically, the opposite party that just won the White House typically wins this governor's race, except for, in 2013, when Terry McAuliffe broke that streak. He's trying to do that again. And we have really seen a reflection of how things have soured for Democrats in the Biden administration.
This is a state that Biden won by 10 points just a year ago. His approval rating is now in the low 40s. And you have Glenn Youngkin, who is a businessman. He's helped self-fund his campaign. He's able to spend almost dollar for dollar what Democrats have in this race.
And that hasn't happened since 2009, and this was the last time that a Republican was elected statewide in Virginia. And he's made this a referendum on education, on the economy, on when people are seeing high prices at the pump. When they go to the grocery store, they're seeing inflation.
And that's really contributed to a sense of frustration.
And, as we mentioned, we are getting early exit polls.
Again, we don't have the — the polls weren't closed yet.
They won't close — excuse me — until 7:00. Excuse me.
But let's look. Here is — people were asked, what is your top issue? And we have got numbers here to show, economy, 33 percent, education 24 percent, has not been an issue in Virginia races, a top issue, anyway, taxes 16, and then coronavirus 13 percent.
What does this tell you?
The coronavirus is the one that's most surprising to me, because, even a few months ago, when we were talking about the Delta surge, this is really what McAuliffe thought would set him apart, because of what he is, mask mandates. He's for vaccine mandates.
And they really tried to hammer that home. But as the numbers have dropped across the state, we see that dropping as an issue. This mirrors the final polls we're seeing in the race that saw coronavirus really drop as an issue and education really spike.
And speaking of education, there was one other exit question we want to we want to share with our viewers.
And the question to voters was, how much say should parents have in the school curriculum? Fifty-three percent said a lot.
And this is — this was a turning point, I believe, in the race, when you had — in the final debate between the two of them, McAuliffe was asked about a law in Virginia that he vetoed that would have allowed parents to opt out of sexually suggestive material that their parents — that their children were reading.
This was in response to AP history — an AP English book, "Beloved," by Toni Morrison. And he responded was saying, I don't think parents should be telling schools what to teach.
That was a gift for Youngkin. It was a sound bite that they put up immediately. And Democrats I talked to, McAuliffe took a while to respond to this. He finally had to go direct to camera to respond. But we saw again in that — like we are seeing in the polling and like we're seeing in this exit polling education skyrocket as an issue.
And that's really — Youngkin has held parents — rallies for parents, parents matter rallies. That's been his rallying cry. He's getting big crowds at them.
McAuliffe, of course, saying that he meant that in the narrow sense. But the Republican campaign has made, as you said, a huge issue.
Just quickly, let me ask you, Jessica Taylor, about New Jersey.
Phil Murphy, the Democrat running for reelection, it's been a Democratic state. What are we looking for there?
Well, if he wins reelection, he would be the first Democrat to win a second term since 1977. So a little history could be made here too. This one hasn't gotten as much attention in Virginia.
The polls have shown either a high single-digit or low double-digit lead there over Republican Jack Ciattarelli, who has really not been able to raise his name I.D. in the state. Murphy has gotten good marks for his handling of coronavirus. And that's something that's really driving the race.
And one other question.
Of course, in this year where former President Trump has gotten so much attention, how much of a factor do we think he's turning out to be?
McAuliffe is hoping that he is a factor in one that will motivate Democrats to come off the bench.
And this has been also another key thing in the Virginia race, is that Republicans are more engaged, they're more energized. And so he has tried to paint Youngkin as a Trump acolyte. Now, Trump endorsed him. He has said he accepts that endorsement and that he would back him if he's the nominee in 2024.
But it's been very hard to paint him as Trump-lite. He's a suburban dad who wears fleece. He doesn't sound like Trump. He doesn't tweet things.
So, McAuliffe hopes this energizes Democrats in a way that it did in California in the recall, but we will see if that works tonight.
Embraced some of his ideas, but tacking in another direction.
All right, Jessica Taylor, you're going to be joining us throughout the evening for updates.
Thank you very much from The Cook Political Report.
We appreciate it.
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