If you had told me a year ago that Republicans would go into this election with Donald Trump sporting a 38 percent job approval rating and then asked what would happen in the gubernatorial election, my thought process would probably have gone along the lines of: “Well, he just lost the state by five points. When we had an unpopular Republican president in 2005, the Democrat won by five, and the state has gotten bluer since then. Probably a high-single digit or low-double digit win for the Democrat this time.”
So why are the 2017 results seen as such a surprise? Some of it is the House of Delegates outcome (which I discuss below), but some of it is that the race for governor did seem to be tightening in the final weeks. This set expectations for a very close finish. But that would have been extremely unusual, given the national environment, and in the end, the fundamentals won out. You could actually see this, with a sharp uptick in Northam’s numbers in the last batch of polling. I said at the time that this was probably the final group of undecideds breaking heavily toward Democrats, much like we saw in 2014 with Republicans. I think this is probably right.