Virginia Republicans hold a rare lead among in-person early voters as they work to elect a GOP governor for the first time in more than a decade, voter modeling obtained by the Washington Free Beacon shows.
Just 82,000 Virginians cast ballots during the first week of early voting, according to the state's Department of Elections. That figure marks a sharp decline from the 270,000 voters who flocked to the polls during the first week of early voting in 2020. Of the 51,000 early votes cast in person, Republicans hold a 127-vote advantage, a data model provided by the Virginia GOP shows. While the state does not register voters by party affiliation, the model uses factors like primary voting history to extrapolate the voters' partisan preference. Democrats have historically dominated early voting—President Joe Biden won Virginia's early vote by more than 30 points against former president Donald Trump.
Those numbers will likely alarm supporters of former governor Terry McAuliffe (D.), who face an enthusiasm gap in their bid to defeat Republican challenger Glenn Youngkin. An August Monmouth poll found that Youngkin enjoys a 19-point lead with voters who describe themselves as being "more enthusiastic."
The early voting numbers also come as Biden's standing in the state slips significantly. According to a September poll conducted by Democratic consulting firm Global Strategy Group, 49 percent of Virginia voters hold a favorable opinion of Biden, while 50 percent of voters view him unfavorably. Biden won the state by double digits in November.
Republicans' apparent lead among in-person early voters "clearly is concerning for Democrats, who traditionally have been the advocates of early voting and have turned out more than Republicans," according to Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.
"The fact that Republicans are turning out early, which goes against type, tells me that they're motivated. And that means McAuliffe needs to do something to stoke the Democratic base," Rozell told the Free Beacon. "Perhaps that's the challenge right now for the McAuliffe campaign—how to translate the enthusiasm that was there the previous four years into an election cycle in which Donald Trump is no longer a real factor."
The McAuliffe campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
McAuliffe will have an opportunity to rally his base during tonight's debate against Youngkin, which NBC's Chuck Todd will moderate in Alexandria, Va. The Democrat largely focused on abortion and COVID-19 during the general election's first debate—while Rozell said those issues "work in McAuliffe's favor" in Virginia, "the key is whether that drives their voting decision in the end."
A September Washington Post-Schar School poll, Rozell noted, found that just 9 percent of voters cite abortion as their top issue. Seventeen percent, meanwhile, chose the coronavirus, while 25 percent picked the economy.
"Bread-and-butter issues—education, health care, the economy, jobs—these are still the big motivating issues for Virginians," Rozell said. "If the abortion issue picks up intensity, which McAuliffe is trying to do here, then that helps him."
Early voting began in the state on Sept. 17 and will run through Oct. 30. Voters have until Oct. 12 to register to vote in the election, which will take place on Nov. 2.