Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
COMMENTARY: Two presidents will have limited effect on governor's race

COMMENTARY: Two presidents will have limited effect on governor's race

  • 1
PHOTO: Trump and Biden

CAMPAIGNS for governor of Virginia routinely resemble grudge matches, as the political party that just lost the White House tries to maximize the turnout of voters angry about the last election. That retribution effort usually works out, as Virginians more often than not select the candidate who belongs to the party that lost the presidential election a year earlier.

But what happens when there are two presidents – one current, one former – who are both shaping the national political discourse?

The answer is a rare two-fisted partisan anger fest now underway in the commonwealth’s statewide elections this year.

Republican campaigns are trying to use President Joe Biden and the Democratic majorities in Congress to hurt Democrats, and Democratic campaign operatives are trying to use former President Donald Trump to hurt Republicans.

Taken together, these efforts seem to be canceling each other out, according to a recent University of Mary Washington 1,000-person statewide survey conducted by Research America Inc.

Only about one-third of the Virginians surveyed (34 percent) said that Biden will be a major factor in deciding their vote in the gubernatorial election, as compared to 29 percent who said the same thing about Trump. Another 18 percent said that Biden would be a minor factor, and 14 percent rated Trump a minor factor in their vote choice.

Dismissing the president-governor connection was a common response for people asked about both of these presidents. More than half of those surveyed (55 percent) said that Trump was not a factor for them in the Virginia elections this November, as compared to 46 percent who said that Biden was not relevant to their vote choice.

The Mary Washington/Research America survey showed a tight race for governor, within the margin of error. The survey indicated significantly less enthusiasm by Democratic Party supporters than was the case a year ago, when Joe Biden won Virginia’s Electoral College votes by a 10-point margin.

Trump’s electoral influence in Virginia these days, at best, is comparable to Biden’s. Trump is a major factor for 29 percent of those surveyed who plan to vote for Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin, compared to 30 percent of those who plan to vote for Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe. Biden is a major factor for 37 percent of those planning to vote for Youngkin and 34 percent of those who plan to support McAuliffe.

Virginians who said they were political independents are not very motivated by the two presidents either. In the survey, only 23 percent of the non-aligned voters said Trump was a major factor for them in the Virginia election and 26 percent said Biden was.

Even though their impact may end up not changing much, the two presidents are highly visible in this governor’s race. President Biden is campaigning in the commonwealth this fall for McAuliffe, and former President Trump connected with Republican activists at a recent Richmond area rally involving Steve Bannon, one of Trump’s top political operatives. The former president also offers regular online commentary supporting Youngkin.

Much of what the Democrats and the Republicans have to say focuses on energizing base voters. They are trying to push all the political hot buttons: McAuliffe hits Youngkin over the new Texas abortion law, Trump’s continuing efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and Republican resistance to COVID health measures. Youngkin paints McAuliffe as anti-police, hostile to parental concerns about education content and insufficiently concerned about Critical Race Theory.

One of the biggest challenges in any Virginia gubernatorial election is getting the voters who cast a ballot for president to show up again a year later for the lower-turnout gubernatorial contest.

With two presidents, trench warfare politics, and a host of contentious issues on the agenda, the campaigns are doing all they can to get voters to the polls, particularly the most partisan ones.

Stephen J. Farnsworth is professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington, where he directs the UMW Center for Leadership and Media Studies. Sally Burkley is a UMW senior with a double major in political science and communication and digital studies who is a research associate at the Center.

Catch the latest in Opinion

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

The learning gap refers to all the lost instruction time during the COVID crisis. It lasted over a year and left a crucial question: How do we get the kids caught up to the grade and level of performance that’s expected of them?

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


Breaking News

News Alert