Political scientists like to call states the “laboratories of democracy.” The theory is that states are greenhouses where democratic reforms take root, then flower and eventually grow outside large enough to cover the nation. Populist and progressive reforms that started in the states bore fruit and became the basis of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal.
But the laboratories of democracy have morphed into houses of horror as we approach Halloween. Red states like Texas and Florida are doing everything in their power to restrict voting and to obstruct the fight to tackle the deadly COVID_19 delta variant.
We have learned the hard way during the pandemic why governors are so vitally important. High COVID-19 rates in Florida and Texas under Republican governors Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisSupport for governors sliding in states without vaccine mandates: survey Vaccine 'resisters' are a real problem Republicans' mantra should have been 'Stop the Spread' MORE and Greg AbbottGreg AbbottSupport for governors sliding in states without vaccine mandates: survey Sunday shows - Buttigieg warns supply chain issues could stretch to next year Arkansas governor backs employer vaccine mandates MORE vividly contrast with states welcoming COVID-19 precautions and vaccines mandates.
Governors are the last line of defense in the battle for reproductive freedom. The abortion ban in Texas and the possibility and the prospect of SCOTUS action to restrict choice have raised the stakes in gubernatorial races.
Which brings us to Virginia. Once the bastion of the Confederacy, Virginia has become a laboratory for progressive policies and programs.
Since they took complete control of state government early last year, Democratic legislators have passed, and Gov. Ralph Northam (D), has signed groundbreaking laws to increase the minimum wage, protect reproductive choice and to control violent gun crimes.
The GOP candidate running to succeed Northam is wealthy businessman Glenn Youngkin is a conservative Trump supporter who describes himself as “pro-life.”
Progress will become a thing of the past if voters turn back the clock and elect Youngkin, the Republican on the ballot. His Democratic opponent is Terry McAuliffe, who previously served as Virginia governor from 2014 to 2018. Governors in Virginia cannot serve consecutive terms.
If the policy impact of the race isn’t enough to whet your appetite, the political implications are mouth-watering. There are several good reasons to focus the bright lights toward the white-hot governor’s race in Virginia.
The party that wins the gubernatorial contest will have national bragging rights when the media spotlights shine on election night.
The campaign in Virginia is of course an appetizer for the dinner next November during the midterm elections when voters in 35 states will go to the polls to vote for governors. Then there’s the all-you-can-eat feast in a potential rematch between President Joe BidenJoe BidenManchin lays down demands for child tax credit: report Abrams targets Black churchgoers during campaign stops for McAuliffe in Virginia Pentagon, State Department square off on Afghanistan accountability MORE and former President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpRobert Gates says 'extreme polarization' is the greatest threat to US democracy Cassidy says he won't vote for Trump if he runs in 2024 Schiff says holding Bannon in criminal contempt 'a way of getting people's attention' MORE for the White House in 2024.
Youngkin has the dubious endorsement of Trump who lost Virginia in his failed bid for reelection by 10 points to Biden. Democrats are hoping to make Trump’s support a liability for the candidate they call “Trumpkin.” But a poll completed this week by CBS News and YouGov shows voters there evenly divided on the Biden’s performance.
Competing streaks are on the line on Election Day. Democrats have won every statewide election in Virginia going back to 2013. But in last two contests, the party occupying the White House has lost its lease on the governor’s mansion.
The gubernatorial contest between McAuliffe and Youngkin is as tight as a tick on a hound dog, according to the CBS survey. The close race indicates that partisan turnout will determine the outcome. Early voting has already commenced and the Virginians who have voted have voted Democratic. However, late voters appear to be more inclined to support the Republican.
The poll also indicates that the Republican candidate has an advantage among likely voters, so Democrats are pulling out all the stops to motivate their base. This weekend former Georgia gubernatorial hopeful Stacy Abrams will campaign for McAuliffe. Later this month former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAbrams targets Black churchgoers during campaign stops for McAuliffe in Virginia Virginia race looms as dark cloud over Biden's agenda The root of Joe Biden's troubles MORE will travel there to motivate turnout.
Biden has already campaigned for McAuliffe and will visit the state again before Election Day. The visits by prominent national Democrats underscore the urgency of the outcome and the desire to preserve progress that Democrats have produced in Virginia.
Voters in Virginia can leap forward this fall to continue the progress under Democrats or turn the clock back to reverse the recent progressive policies with Republican leadership.
Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. His podcast, “Deadline D.C. with Brad Bannon,” airs on Periscope TV and the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter: @BradBannon