Biden Drags Down Terry McAuliffe in Virginia

President's unpopularity turns governor's race into tossup

President Biden and failed Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe / Getty Images
September 24, 2021

The Cook Political Report on Friday changed its prediction in the Virginia gubernatorial race from "lean Democratic" to "tossup," citing "a worsening national environment for Democrats" as President Joe Biden's poll numbers drop dramatically.

The nonpartisan political forecaster long held that Democratic nominee and former governor Terry McAuliffe had an advantage in the increasingly blue state. It changed its prediction to a tossup in light of recent polls that show either a lead for Republican Glenn Youngkin or a narrow McAuliffe lead within a margin of error.

One major reason for the shift, Cook political analyst Jessica Taylor wrote Friday, is Biden's now-underwater approval rating. A Gallup poll released Wednesday shows that only 43 percent of nationwide voters approve of the president's performance. A recent Washington Post poll found that Biden's numbers have similarly tanked in Virginia, a state he won easily in 2020, with a 51 percent disapproval rating.

Cook Political Report editor Amy Walter wrote Thursday that voters have soured on Biden because they "don’t see the 'return to normal'" the Democrat promised after former president Donald Trump's four years in office.

Biden "botched" the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan, is now facing "more chaos on the southern border," and has left the country still "anxious and divided" over COVID-19, Walter noted. Legislation for his domestic agenda, meanwhile, has "dissolved into intra-party fighting," while he "looks more like a helpless bystander than an experienced Capitol Hill dealmaker."

Other reasons for the change to "tossup," Taylor wrote, are Youngkin's tough-on-crime ads, which may "help bring suburban voters repulsed by Trump" back to the GOP, and his ability to outspend his Democratic rival, which "no other Republican has done in over a decade." Youngkin also "seems to have the enthusiasm on his side."

Virginia's off-year gubernatorial race "has long been seen as a bellwether" for the following year's midterm elections, Taylor noted.