AMAC Exclusive – by Pat Conroy
While most Americans enjoy some well-deserved time off on Labor Day, for political candidates the holiday is the first day of the crucial home stretch of the fall campaign season. In the coming weeks, three states will hold gubernatorial elections: Virginia, New Jersey, and the recall election in California. All will be widely watched for signs that may portend a Democrat collapse in the midterm elections next year.
While we’ll have to wait until November for results in Virginia and New Jersey, the California recall vote will offer results on September 14. Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom is fighting for his political life thanks to California’s unconventional recall process. In one of the bluest states in the country, Republicans find themselves with a real chance to take over the Governor’s mansion 8 days from now.
All 22 million registered voters in California have received a ballot in the mail with two questions. First, the central question, “Shall GAVIN NEWSOM be recalled (removed) from the office of Governor?” Second, voters are to select a candidate to succeed Gavin Newsom as Governor if he is recalled. On the recall question, “no, do not remove” is leading slightly by 5% in the RealClearPolitics (RCP) polling average. Out of the candidates vying to replace Newsom, conservative talk radio host Larry Elder, is running far ahead of the field by more than 15% on the RCP average.
Newsom’s campaign team is sounding the alarm about the recall threat. Democrats are attempting to frame the completely constitutional recall effort as a “Republican power-grab.” The Newsom campaign has massively outspent Republican challengers and in their latest television ad, they recruited Senator Bernie Sanders to implore voters to save Newsom. “The September 14 recall of Governor Newsom is a bald-faced Republican power grab,” Sanders said. “Don’t let it happen.” If the socialist from Vermont’s plea proves unsuccessful, Republicans will have won their first California governor’s race since 2006, when former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was re-elected after first being elected in a similar 2003 recall.
If history is any guide, Republicans also have a fighting chance in the two traditional elections this fall in Virginia and New Jersey. During the first off-year election in each of the last three presidencies, the party controlling the White House has lost both the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial elections. In 2001, Democrat Mark Warner defeated Republican Mark Earley in Virginia and Democrat nominee Jim McGreevey defeated Republican Bret Schundler in New Jersey. In 2009, Republican Bob McDonnell defeated Craig Deeds in Virginia and Republican Chris Christie defeated Democrat incumbent John Corzine in New Jersey. And most recently in 2017, Democrat Ralph Northam defeated Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia and Democrat Phil Murphy defeated Republican Kim Guadagno in New Jersey.
In each of those elections, the party that did not control the White House held a significant turnout advantage that helped propel their candidates to victory. Without former President Donald Trump on the ballot to stoke Democrat turnout, combined with President Biden’s sinking poll numbers, Republicans have at least some reason for cautious optimism in both states.
In the Garden State, Republicans likely face their toughest challenge of the three elections. Democrat Governor Phil Murphy is comfortably leading the Republican challenger, former State Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, with less than two months to go until election day. In every head-to-head poll conducted up until this point, Murphy has led Ciattarelli by more than 15 points. To make Ciattarelli’s challenge even more difficult, New Jersey has more than one million registered Democrats than Republicans.
However, there is one potential saving grace for the Ciattarelli campaign – recent history. Despite the state’s deep blue political make up, Republicans have managed to control the Governor’s office for 24 of the last 40 years. In fact, the last time New Jersey re-elected a Democrat governor was in 1977, when Brendan Byrne defeated Republican challenger Raymond Bateman. Whether that trend continues or is merely a fluke is yet to be determined. What impact the recent precipitous collapse in Joe Biden’s approval ratings will have on the race also remains to be seen.
Republicans’ best chance this fall undoubtedly lies in the Old Dominion, where former Democrat Governor Terry McAuliffe and Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin are facing off. Many political pundits have suggested that, after more than a decade of mostly Democrats victories, Virginia is now solidly a blue state. But according to polling released last week by Trafalgar Group, 46.6% of likely Virginia voters support McAuliffe while 46.3% support Youngkin – a statistical tie. If this holds true, the roughly 5% of Virginians who said they are still undecided in the Trafalgar poll will determine Virginia’s next Governor.
It also appears that McAuliffe’s recent campaigning with President Biden may not have been the greatest strategy after all. Biden’s recent poll numbers slipping to record lows have mirrored the tightening race for Governor in Virginia. Momentum is clearly on Glenn Youngkin’s side, and his campaign is attempting to capitalize on it. In an effort to win those crucial undecided voters, Youngkin recently released a full policy platform as his “Day One Game Plan.”
“We have a lot we need to get done here in Virginia, and we need to start strong. It is time for bold leadership, and the Day One Game Plan takes on the challenges facing Virginians and puts us on a path toward having the best jobs, the best schools, and the safest communities in America,” said Glenn Youngkin in his rollout announcement. “Terry McAuliffe and his liberal Richmond allies are failing Virginia, and it’s going to take a new kind of leader—not a failed politician looking for a second chance—to create a Commonwealth where businesses can prosper, students can thrive, and communities are safe.”
The three issue areas where Youngkin expects to make gains among independent voters are the economy, education, and public safety – all of which are in decline under the current Northam administration. Youngkin says his economic plan of significant tax reform, commonsense deregulation, and small business incentives would create 400,000 new jobs in Virginia. He drives home the need for substantial change by highlighting on his campaign website that “Virginia currently ranks 44th in job recovery during the pandemic and was recently ranked as the 49th best state to start a business.”
Meanwhile, on education, Youngkin recognizes that Virginians are fed up with the prevalence of Critical Race Theory and other anti-American ideologies in public school classrooms. His website details “ridding political agendas from the classroom by banning Critical Race Theory.”
Recent actions taken by the McAuliffe campaign suggest they also know CRT is a losing issue and unpopular with Virginians. According to new reporting from the Washington Free Beacon, Terry McAuliffe “removed his pledge to “eliminate racial disparities” from the top of his campaign’s K-12 education page…the Democrat also nixed the term “equitable” from the top of four issue pages on his campaign site.”
Finally, Youngkin seeks to address the 20-year high murder rate currently ravaging Virginia communities. He’s proposing “fully funding law enforcement and protecting qualified immunity for our law enforcement heroes.” Once again, the Youngkin campaign recognizes a massive vulnerability for the Democrats and McAuliffe campaign, which dates back to their party’s ill-advised embrace of the “Defund the Police” movement in the lead up to the 2020 presidential election. For proof, look no further than the McAuliffe campaign releasing an ad touting the former Governor’s law enforcement endorsements, shortly after Youngkin savaged McAuliffe for the Virginia crime rate.
Between the elections unfolding in California, New Jersey, and Virginia, it’s clear that political pendulum has swung back toward Republicans and Democrats are back on their heels. The only question remains, can Republicans close the deal this fall?