Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s campaign has made Trump a centerpiece of the governor’s race, tying Youngkin to the former president in nearly 60 percent of his TV ads airing in the closing weeks of the race, according to AdImpact, an ad-tracking firm. But it’s unclear whether Trump inspires the same urgency among voters now that he’s out of office. Meanwhile, Youngkin is hammering his message even more single-mindedly at the end of the race: AdImpact’s data shows that every single one of Youngkin’s closing TV ads has centered on education and schools, a top issue for suburban voters.
“Virginia will tell us whether past frustration with Trump still lingers in the suburbs,” said Robert Blizzard, a Republican pollster who focuses on suburban voters. “You’ve got McAuliffe talking about ‘Trump, Trump, Trump,’ and Youngkin focused on suburban issues, like education, cost of living and jobs. That’s the tug of war for the suburbs.”
Should Republicans regain ground in the Virginia suburbs in two weeks, it could not only help flip the state red — it would inevitably set off alarm bells for Democrats preparing for next year’s midterm elections. Virginia Democrats’ strong showing in the suburbs in the last governor’s race foreshadowed Democratic gains around most every major metro area in 2018 and 2020, helping flip the House and Senate. Republican recovery in the suburbs this year could presage Congress swinging the other direction in 2022.
“If Democrats are bleeding in the suburbs now, no way you’re not bleeding the suburbs next year,” said Dan Sena, former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.