Saturday, October 21, 2023


You folks think I'm a knee-jerk pessimist about Democrats, but I think there are reasons to be optimistic about the Virginia legislative elections that will take place next month:
Abortion has surged as a key issue for women and Democrats for the Nov. 7 legislative elections in Virginia ... according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll.

The election will decide whether Virginia remains a relatively liberal outlier among Southern states in areas such as guns, LGBTQ+ rights and criminal justice, or whether Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) can enact a conservative agenda that includes a ban on abortion after 15 weeks, with exceptions.

... registered voters are roughly divided when asked whether they favor a generic Democrat on the House of Delegates ballot over a Republican — at 47 percent to 43 percent, respectively — with an even tighter two-point gap among likely voters. Separately, 48 percent of all voters say they view united Republican control as a “bad thing” and 43 percent view it as a “good thing.”

... 70 percent of women rate abortion as a very important issue, up from 47 percent in 2019. Men who emphasize the issue have increased slightly to 50 percent from 45 percent in 2019.

The issue’s elevation is also driven by a 30-point increase among Democrats who say it is very important (from 47 percent in 2019 to 77 percent this year) and a 12-point rise among independents (from 40 percent to 52 percent). Republican voters have not moved, with 53 percent saying abortion is a very important issue now compared with 52 percent in 2019.
We're told that the results of this election "could signal the national political mood heading into the 2024 presidential election," but I don't believe that. The 2024 election will be a referendum on Joe Biden and/or Donald Trump. I fear it will be a referendum on Biden, who's not very popular; if it's a referendum on Trump, I hope it's a referendum on his unfitness to serve and not on misty and inaccurate recollections of a time when the economy was ideal and America had no crime. The Biden campaign desperately needs to do some image repair for the president and his vice president, and needs to remind voters how radically right-wing a second Trump term could be.

But I don't think the Virginia elections will be a referendum on the current president. Republicans could still do well if the election is about the economy and crime, areas in which Republicans are trusted more (see below). But note the issues apart from abortion on which Democrats are trusted more:

The conventional wisdom is that in 2021 fleece-wearing suburban dad Glenn Youngkin found the formula that allowed him to run on the culture war, particularly critical race theory and the trans panic, without alienating suburban moderates. That may be true for him personally -- he has a 54% approval rating -- but he's not on the ballot, and Virginia voters not only trust Democrats more than Republicans on abortion, they trust Democrats more on education and trans issues.

Youngkin's people have been selling the narrative that if Republicans sweep next month, he can enter the presidential race and be the Trump killer. The mainstream media is ready for this narrative, so we see headlines like "‘Virginia Is the Test Case’: Youngkin Pushes for G.O.P. Takeover This Fall" (New York Times) and "Glenn Youngkin Thinks He Has a Republican Response to Democrats’ Abortion Attacks" (Politico). The latter is accompanied by this photo, in case you're wondering whether the media has a rooting interest:

I hope this is true:
... Youngkin’s push to convince Republicans to embrace early voting through his “Secure Your Vote” campaign, after years of GOP lawmakers working against the effort to expand absentee voting in Virginia, does not seem to have had a significant effect. Among voters who identify as Republican, 65 percent say they intend to cast their ballot on Election Day while 32 percent say they have voted early or plan to.

... Half of Democrats plan to vote in person on Election Day, while roughly the same share say they’ll vote early or have already voted.
Early voting is good. Early voting means the party needs to devote fewer resources on Election Day to turnout efforts. If Republicans are still opposed to early voting, that's good for Democrats.

Democratic strategists Simon Rosenberg and Tom Bonier, who were optimistic last year when many people were predicting a "red wave," are warning that Democrats don't have a clear lead in early voting. I hope that's not a sign that Democrats will underperform after overperforming in other off-year contests since the Dobbs decision. We'll see.

If Republicans manage to win and Youngkin enters the presidential race, I think he'll have his head handed to him by Donald Trump. No one can beat Trump, but it's particularly unlikely that Trump could be beaten by someone with a nice-guy persona who's trying to impress mainstream journalists. It will be hilarious to watch Youngkin take incoming from Trump and have no response because firing back would be bad for his image. It could be Jeb Bush 2.0. But I hope Democrats triumph and we don't get to that point.

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