DANIEL VAUGHAN: Virginia governor’s race is tight, and Democrats are panicking

We’re only days from Election Day, and Fox News has dropped a blockbuster poll on the Virginia gubernatorial race.

Fox polled the state of Virginia in what is perceived as a close race for the governorship, and their shocking find was that Republican Glenn Youngkin had a commanding eight-point lead! That lead is outside the margin of error, and shows a stark shift in the race just before voters head to the voting booths on Nov. 2, 2021.

Even more shocking about this poll is that Fox’s was previously one of Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s best polls. Two weeks ago, Fox News gave McAuliffe a five-point lead over Youngkin.

What does Fox attribute to the shift? Education: “What changed? GOP enthusiasm. The race is largely focused on education and this has energized Republicans, as 79 percent of Youngkin supporters are ‘extremely’ interested in the election compared to 69 percent of McAuliffe supporters.”

Publically, Terry McAuliffe will likely claim it’s just a Fox News poll, and it’s nothing but right-wing shenanigans. But this is false for two reasons.

First, Fox News is an excellent polling organization, and McAuliffe’s campaign knows this. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight rating of pollsters grades Fox’s polling outfit with a grade of “A” and puts it among the top 10 polling organizations in the country. That rating notes that Fox News’ polls have predicted 75% of races correctly, which is right in line with other top polling outfits.

Second, while McAuliffe’s campaign will put on a brave face publicly and attack the poll, internally, they’ll panic. And the panicking has already begun.

Terry McAuliffe’s campaign has hired the services of long-time Clinton lawyer Marc Elias. Law professor Jonathan Turley correctly notes that Elias has a long and sordid history with the Clintons, legal ethics, and challenging electoral results where a Democrat loses.

Elias has also joined several lawsuits that attack Republican laws passed by states to organize their elections. He often uses those lawsuits to raise money.

When asked about hiring Elias, McAuliffe’s campaign accidentally included Fox News reporters in emails saying to “kill” the story and anything related to the decision. After realizing they accidentally included Fox in those emails, McAuliffe’s campaign went radio silent.

These are not the actions of a confident campaign. These are the signs of an organization that’s desperate and swinging at anything around it, looking for the first form of traction it can find.

As I wrote last week, the race is McAuliffe’s to lose. He has all the advantages you would expect from a state trending toward Democrats, with a strong core of Democratic-leaning voters in the Northern Virginia area, near Washington, D.C.

Everything we know and the polls leading up to this fall signaled that McAuliffe had a strong lead and structural advantages heading into this race. Ahead of Nov. 2, it was the primary election that was believed to be McAuliffe’s most challenging race.

Yet here we are, with most polls showing a tight race, and now, Fox News blowing the barn doors down, suggesting Youngkin will get a walk-away victory.

Sometimes polls are just outliers, but sometimes those outliers tell us the truth.

In 2020, Iowa’s gold-star polling outfit run by Ann Seltzer saw Trump winning the state easily and was one of a few organizations showing Senator Joni Ernst winning re-election. Left-wing prognosticators attacked those polls, suggesting they were biased and wrong but had to eat crow a few days later.

The flip-side is the ABC News and Washington Post poll of Wisconsin in 2020. Their last poll suggested Joe Biden would win that state by a whopping 18 points. In reality, Biden’s victory was extremely slim, and he won by just 0.7 points over Trump.

Sometimes those outliers tell you an important story; other times, it’s a polling organization swinging at air and missing everything. You’ll never learn until Election Day.

But what’s also clear is that this race is razor-thin according to the polling averages of RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight. Terry McAuliffe is in a close race because he’s a lousy candidate, ran a poor campaign, and gave Republicans an opening in a favorable environment for a conservative candidate.

Whether or not Youngkin can exploit this opening is an open question. Still, the trendlines and momentum are clearly with him. Youngkin isn’t the one trying to kill stories, bringing in lawyers from the deepest recesses of the swamp, or panicking over polls.

The Virginia gubernatorial race remains Terry McAuliffe’s race to lose. We’ve moved beyond him doing the things necessary to lose at this point; he may be beginning to believe that he’s going to lose.

And if Terry believes it, how much more are national Democrats panicking looking to 2022?