The Virginia gubernatorial race on Nov. 7 is arguably the most important election for the Democratic Party this year.
Democrat Ralph Northam, the current Virginia lieutenant governor, is running against Republican Ed Gillespie, Republican lobbyist, former Bush administration counselor and former RNC chair.
While both parties are pouring millions of dollars into these candidates, this election is particularly high-risk for the Democrats.
Virginia, while traditionally a swing-state, has the potential to be a much-needed Democratic stronghold for the minority party. After all, Virginia is one of only 15 governors’ mansions still held by the party, according to Reuter’s Gary Robertson.
A new poll has Republican Ed Gillespie up eight points in the Virginia governor's race. https://t.co/pgeUJxgXK9
— Axios (@axios) October 25, 2017
According to the RealClearPolitics average, however, Northam has a 3.9 percent lead in the polls, a margin that projects a Democratic loss to be possible within the margin of error.
“Northam should have a comfortable lead right now,” wrote Salena Zito for the New York Post, decrying Democratic campaign efforts and criticizing what seems to be their inability to adequately energize their base. “But Northam’s numbers are not up — in fact, the last three public polls show next month’s race within the margin of error.”
In addition to a loss of one of the few governorships the Democrats have left, a Northam loss in this election could also spark more political infighting between establishment and progressive liberal politicians and voters.
“For most Democrats, the best way to stave off another round of infighting is to win,” David Weigel and Ed O’Keefe cowrote for the Washington Post.
In order to win, many Democrats have been capitalizing on Virginia’s anti-Trump bent.
Since Virginia is largely anti-Trump, the Northam campaign has been trying to connect Trump and Gillespie, particularly through the riots that recently took place in Charlottesville, Va.
Ed Gillespie tries a new way to avoid Trump questions. #VAGov pic.twitter.com/d1sZVdLKcT
— Jared Leopold (@jaredleopold) October 16, 2017
President Trump endorsed Gillespie on Twitter, an endorsement Gillespie has done his best not to tout publically, perhaps in fear of more establishment Republican backlash in the state.
In addition to attacking Gillespie through association with Trump policies, Democrats have also been attempting to appeal to blue-collar voters in the state, which has sparked criticism among left-wing pundits.
People of color are STILL invisible to many Dems and we might lose Virginia gov's race as a result. My latest piece in @thenation https://t.co/g6bcB4D196
— Steve Phillips (@StevePtweets) October 23, 2017
“Nationally, voters of color remain the cornerstone of a winning electoral coalition. In Virginia, Democrats don’t need any white votes,” wrote The Nation’s Steven Phillips. He is of the opinion that campaign-funding allocation primarily aimed toward working-class white people is unwise and undercuts people of color in an election where their vote matters most.
“Unless they enthusiastically embrace, engage and invest in the communities of color, they run the risk of again losing elections they should win, in Virginia this year, across the country in 2018, and, God forbid, in the 2020 presidential race,” Phillips said.
Other more conservative pundits criticize the Northam campaign for not doing enough to engage these demographics, with Town Hall’s Matt Vespa characterizing them as “giving the finger to white working-class voters.”
With the most recent polls projecting that Gillespie is now in the lead within two weeks of the intense election, the response of already-worried Democratic pundits and strategists should be interesting.