Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin were pushing last-minute Sunday to energize Virginia voters in the closing days of the competitive and closely watched gubernatorial race.
With the state’s long period of early voting over, campaigns have turned their attention to Tuesday’s final, with each trying to mobilize their party base to increase voter turnout in an election that will be looked at as an indicator ahead. the mid-terms of next year.
McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2014 to 2018, and Democrats are scrambling to avert disaster after public polls have shifted in Youngkin’s direction in recent weeks. Republicans are optimistic about their chances in the Commonwealth, where they haven’t won a statewide race since 2009.
After campaigning in northern Virginia on Saturday, Youngkin left for the state’s far southwest, a Republican stronghold. Stops along his bus tour included a prayer breakfast, worship service, a barbecue at the home of a powerful state lawmaker, a get-together in the most remote corner of the state, and an evening of gathering to vote.
McAuliffe, who predated Democrat Ralph Northam as governor of the only state that does not allow its executive to serve back-to-back terms, spent the southeastern corner of the state on Saturday before making Sunday stops in the suburbs of Richmond and northern Virginia.
In the backyard of a pocket-sized home in Henrico County, McAuliffe told an energetic crowd of supporters that “the stakes are high” as he bragged about his record since his first term.
“I have already done this work. I was the most pro-pro-progressive pro-business. I made this state open and welcoming, created a lot of jobs. We don’t want to go back, ”he said.
Speaking at a rally in Abingdon, Youngkin predicted Republicans would sweep all three statewide races and regain control of the House of Delegates, where all 100 seats are on the ballot.
“This is the time for us to declare that control of the great government is going to lose and that freedom and liberty in Virginia will win,” he said, as the crowd erupted in joy.
McAuliffe brought in a slew of top-tier surrogates including President Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama and celebrity musicians Pharrell Williams and Dave Matthews down the home stretch. Youngkin, meanwhile, has avoided virtually all public campaign visits from well-known party allies who would typically flock for a hot run.
This includes former President Donald Trump, who is holding a conference call for Youngkin on Monday. Youngkin said he would not participate. Youngkin more fully embraced Trump in the Republican nominating contest, but since becoming the nominee he has walked a fine line in trying to woo moderate voters in a state that Trump has lost 10 percentage points to Biden in 2020.
Saturday marked the last day of early voting in Virginia, which has been significantly expanded over the past two years of unified democratic control of the state government.
Legislation passed in 2020 eliminated the need to provide one of the few limited excuses for voting absent. Now, any qualified voter can vote from 45 days before the election.
More than 1.1 million of the state’s roughly 5.9 million registered voters voted earlier this year, according to state data released by the Virginia Public Access Project, a non-partisan organization. This is a sharp drop from the 2.8 million early votes cast in last year’s presidential election, but marks a dramatic increase from a mere 195,634 early votes in the last governor’s cycle, before the introduction of electoral reforms.
McAuliffe spokeswoman Christina Freundlich said the campaign expects many Democrats to revert to their pre-pandemic voting habits this year, favoring in-person voting on election day.
Still, during the Henrico rally, McAuliffe claimed Democrats had a “big lead on early voting.”
Voters don’t register by party in Virginia, so the partisan division of early voting was not immediately clear. But McAuliffe’s campaign highlighted what they saw as a “strong” number in blue-prone communities in northern Virginia, a sign that the momentum was on their side.
Republicans, despite their general opposition to the Democrats’ electoral reforms, also encouraged their supporters to vote earlier this year.
In southwest Virginia, where Youngkin spent Sunday, the early voting rate was far lower than the state as a whole, according to a VPAP analysis.
A high turnout on election day could help boost Youngkin as he seeks to overcome the structural advantage of northern Virginia’s blue tilt.
The frantic pace of the campaign was expected to continue on Monday. The two candidates will tour the state, each with stops in Roanoke, Virginia Beach, the Richmond area and northern Virginia.
Polling stations will be open Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.