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The Democratic gubernatorial race has not changed much in the last six months as former Governor Terry McAuliffe continues to cruise with the most powerful members of the party at his back.
McAuliffe has also vastly outraised his primary opponents and being out of office for less than four years appears to have given him the same name ID advantage that an incumbent typically would possess. With many campaigns expecting low turnout at the polls in June, that name ID and money advantage make McAuliffe hard to beat when there are five total candidates on the primary ballot.
McAuliffe has been the presumed frontrunner since long before he was officially in the race.
The former governor has faced criticisms of blocking progress by potentially standing in the way of the first Black woman being elected Governor in the United States — but his defenders point to the fact that the most powerful Black legislators in the commonwealth are at the forefront of his campaign. The Senate Pro-Tempore Louise Lucas is his campaign chair, for example.
McAuliffe’s campaign is centered around the words “big and bold,” as he says the phrase with nearly every policy rollout. It is simple, but according to the polls, it is working. The former governor isn’t taking that apparent lead for granted, however, as he continues to campaign across the state.
McAuliffe stopped by small businesses in Petersburg Saturday afternoon to talk to the owners and meet with supporters.
As he walked through Petersburg Pickers in Old Towne, a group of people who were walking by the shop stopped to get a glimpse at what was happening. It wasn’t hard for them to tell who was inside due to the large number of ‘Terry for Virginia’ signs on display at the time. “You guys want to stop and see the future governor of Virginia?” one man asked his friends as they walked up to the door.
McAuliffe’s campaign plans to keep up the pace of driving across the Commonwealth to drive supporter turnout in the final days of the primary campaign. “Heading into the final week before Primary Day, Terry will crisscross the Commonwealth to continue talking directly to voters about how he will create a more equitable post-COVID economy that lifts up all Virginians and highlighting the threat that Donald Trump’s hand-picked Republican nominee, extremist Glenn Youngkin, poses for the progress Virginians have made in the last eight years. Terry has defeated Republican extremists before and he is ready to do it again,” said Renzo Olivari, a spokesman for McAuliffe.
Former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy has tried to take the role as the top progressive challenger to McAuliffe, but her campaign never fully hit its stride. She ran on her history as a person that grew up in Petersburg and lived through tough experiences to make it where she is today. That story is inspiring, her energy is uplifting, and she has done work in the General Assembly over the last four years — but running for statewide office as a one-and-a-half term delegate representing 1 percent of Virginians is like trying to build a house with a hammer and nails while your opponent already has power tools and a crew to use them.
Additionally, her campaign seemed to lose steam and funding in the final days with reductions to ad buys in the D.C. market and cuts to campaign staff.
She was able to raise a substantial amount of money for her campaign, however, in the beginning of the race. A large portion of that money came from billionaires Michael Bills and Sonjia Smith — two of the largest Democratic donors in recent years. Bills and Smith are curretnly at odds with the Democratic establishment over their funding of primary candidates in the House.
State Senator Jennifer McClellan has been one of the most respected members of the Virginia Democratic for years, but her gubernatorial run has also failed to find a stride. McClellan moved to the left over the last few years leading up to the race, but that wasn’t enough to fully separate her from McAuliffe, or her corporate background.
McClellan has represented parts of Richmond in the General Assembly for over a decade, making her the candidate in this race with the most state government experience. But experience as a legislator hasn’t translated positively in the polls. McClellan as a state senator has a larger district than Carroll Foy did, but still, her name ID statewide is still far behind McAuliffe’s.
State Delegate Lee Carter has been running a campaign to the left of the other candidates and has had some shining moments during debates — but he is unlikely to be in a competitive position when the votes are counted. Carter is a socialist, but he caucuses with the Democrats in the House of Delegates. Instead of winning the race, his campaign appears to have been focused more on the issues and taking advantage of the platform he has as a gubernatorial candidate to move the conversation.
Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax is also vying for the nomination and could potentially pull in the second most votes on June 8. However, besides his participation in the televised debates, his campaign has been nonexistent. He has no social media presence, raised a minimal amount of money, and makes very few public appearances. He was considered by many to be the likely 2021 nominee just a few years ago, but accusations of rape and sexual assault in 2019 from multiple women kneecapped his political career — even though he remains in his position and has presided over the state senate in the time since those accusations were first made against him.
In that last poll conducted by CNU’s Wason Center, 47% of registered voters that planned to vote in the primary were supporting McAuliffe. Fairfax was in second at 8%, and the other candidates fell below that.
There have been no significant developments in the race since that poll was conducted in mid-April. As long as McAuliffe can continue pushing forward and rally his core supporters to get them to the polls, it is hard to see him losing this nomination.
At a convention last month, Republicans nominated Glenn Youngkin, a former executive at The Carlyle Group, to be their gubernatorial nominee this November.
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