Upset brewing: Forecaster moves Virginia from lean Democratic to tilt Democratic

AP Photo/Cliff Owen

This will be a pure toss-up by Election Day.

At this point Democrats will welcome a victory by any margin, but a one- or two-point win in a state that went for Biden by 10 last fall may spook centrist Dems in Congress as much as a one- or two-point loss would. Most of them represent purple districts, after all. They’re not likely to be back in Congress in 2023 if Terry McAuliffe can’t avert a nine-point shift towards Republicans with every big-name Democrat in the country campaigning for him.

Speaking of which, news broke last night that the man with the 43 percent approval rating is headed to Virginia to stump, a move that came at the White House’s insistence more so than McAuliffe’s, I assume. As recently as three months ago, having Biden on the trail in Virginia would have been a no-brainer. He won the state comfortably, he was sporting a 50 percent job approval, and he just wasn’t as antagonizing to the right as previous Democratic nominees like Obama and Hillary Clinton were. Dems could reasonably tell themselves that having the president campaign there would motivate more members of his own party to vote on Election Day than members of the other party.

Three months later, I’m not so sure that’s true. New from Gallup:

That 88-point approval gap between Democrats and Republicans is the second-widest of any modern president. (I’ll give you one guess which predecessor had a wider one.) Biden ran last year promising that he wouldn’t be as polarizing as Trump, and would even be able to make deals with the other party on big-ticket legislation — which he’s done, actually, in the form of the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Less than nine months after Inauguration Day he’s about as polarizing as a politician could possibly be, though. Which would be okay for him and for McAuliffe if independents were still in his corner.

Instead, gaze at the decline he’s experienced within that group. From 61 percent approval in January to 34 percent today, a drop of nearly half. And that’s no outlier. Poll after poll after poll has showed indies abandoning Biden in droves amid rising inflation and COVID case counts. McAuliffe must be cringing at the thought of having him in front of the cameras in the home stretch when undecided independents are finally making up their minds. But how do you tell the president “no” when he says he wants to come campaign for you?

McAuliffe should ask Glenn Youngkin for pointers. He’s done a solid job of keeping the last president from his own party away from Virginia so far.

Democrats continue to hope and trust that they’ll pull a rabbit out of the hat in infrastructure negotiations sometime over the next week and reach a deal on the reconciliation bill, giving Virginia Democrats something to celebrate at an opportune moment. The great risk for them in the reconciliation stand-off, though, is that even if something ends up passing, it’s likely to be so watered-down by Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema from the progressive vision for the legislation that lefties will end up feeling *more* demoralized rather than less. If you doubt that, read Jordan Weissmann at Slate tearing at his hair upon seeing the programs in the bill gutted due to spending concerns:

Take paid leave. Democrats initially envisioned an expansive program that would provide 12 weeks of leave for new parents and people who get sick or have to take care of a loved one. But it was costly, probably somewhere above $500 billion. Democrats could have massively brought down the expense by focusing only on paid leave for parents, which would have fixed one of the most obviously embarrassing gaps in our family policy (we’re literally the only developed country in the world that doesn’t guarantee it, after all). But instead, they’re considering [just four weeks]…

Then there’s the child care program, which for several days now has been the subject of a complicated but raging debate about whether it’s an abject disaster in the making. Without rehearsing every detail, the basic question is whether Democrats are about to essentially repeat the mistakes they made with Obamacare, by passing reforms that increase the quality of child care services and increase access to the poor while simultaneously making it impossible for parts of the middle and upper-middle class to afford day care. One way to avoid this issue in the long term would be to simply cap what all families have to pay at some reasonable amount, which for a moment looked like it would be the party’s approach. But on Thursday a Democratic Senate aide told me that the conversation seems to be headed toward limiting subsidies to families that earn less than 200 percent of the state’s median income. If so, lawmakers are getting ready to make the same critical mistake that they’re currently trying to fix when it comes to health care policy. History is on repeat, but skipping straight from tragedy to farce. (Also, the funding would probably be temporary.)

Imagine that Pelosi and Schumer step to the podium next week and triumphantly announce that a deal has been reached only to be met with a wave of commentary about how the plan’s parental leave proposal was slashed by two-thirds and how their big, bold child-care program is apt to lead to crushing new expenses for middle-class families in the suburbs, the very voters whom they’re counting on to save McAuliffe. Does that sound like a recipe for big Democratic turnout on November 2?

Dems are fantasizing about their voters hearing news of a reconciliation deal and declaring, “We can do big things!” Instead, per Weissmann, it seems they’re as likely to say, “What’s the point of electing Democrats?”

I’ll leave you with this news from a pollster. We shouldn’t read too much into early voting numbers, but bear in mind that Dems tend to show up early in greater numbers than Republicans do. If McAuliffe’s base is planning to turn out in the volume he needs to win, one would think their early voting numbers would be strong. And yet.