(CNN)Last week, Glenn Youngkin earned the Republican nomination for this year’s Virginia governor’s race. Virginia, along with New Jersey, hosts the only gubernatorial elections this year. Voters throughout the Old Dominion will also be casting ballots in legislative elections.
And while Virginia is just one state (or commonwealth), the outcome in these races could give us a real clue about where the national political environment stands heading into the 2022 midterms. If Republicans do well this year, it could be a good sign for them next year.
Virginia’s unique in that no person can serve as governor more than one term in a row. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam must step down after this term, meaning the seat is open, and neither Youngkin nor whoever the Democrats choose as their candidate in next month’s primary (probably former Gov. Terry McAuliffe) will have a clear incumbency advantage.
That’s important because governor’s races without incumbents running can, on the whole, tell us a lot about the political environment, if we know how to put them in context.
When I say context, I mean knowing the political lean of the state. Most political observers view the Democrats as moderately favored to hold on to Virginia’s governor’s mansion because the commonwealth has seen a marked shift to the left in the last decade.
President Joe Biden won Virginia by 10 points in 2020, after Hillary Clinton won it by 5 points in 2016. No Republican has won a statewide race in Virginia since 2009.
Virginia is 5 points more Democratic than the nation, according to the last two presidential races (when giving more weight to the most recent one).
This means that if the Democrats win this year’s governor’s election by 5 points, it’s consistent with a national environment in which the two parties are on equal footing. For Re
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