That’s important because governor’s races without incumbents running can, on the whole, tell us a lot about the political environment, if we know how to put them in context.
When I say context, I mean knowing the political lean of the state. Most political observers view the Democrats as moderately favored to hold on to Virginia’s governor’s mansion because the commonwealth has seen a marked shift to the left in the last decade.
Virginia is 5 points more Democratic than the nation, according to the last two presidential races (when giving more weight to the most recent one).
This means that if the Democrats win this year’s governor’s election by 5 points, it’s consistent with a national environment in which the two parties are on equal footing. For Republicans to be facing a better political environment than in 2020 (when Biden won by a little less than 5 points nationally and by 10 points in Virginia), they want to keep any defeat to single digits.
To see how the relationship between Virginia elections and next year’s federal elections has worked in the past, look at the last Virginia gubernatorial election in 2017.
Of course, any one race can be dependent on candidate quality and other factors. Governors’ races individually can be misleading (for example, Democrats winning the 2013 Virginia governor’s race before getting trounced in the 2014 midterms), and they’re best examined as a whole.
The fact that groups of elections can tell us more than any one individually is why we need to keep an eye on Virginia’s House of Delegates elections this year as well. Any one race’s eccentricities tend to get ironed out in the average. All 100 seats in the state’s lower legislative body are up for grabs.
What this means for 2021 heading into 2022 is pretty simple. Democrats should do well in both the Virginia gubernatorial delegate races, if the political environment is in their favor. If they only barely win or lose in both, we’re probably looking at the usual midterm losses the party that controls the White House has.
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