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What You Need to Know About Today’s Gubernatorial Races in New Jersey and Virginia

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Today, voters head to the polls in Virginia and New Jersey.
Here’s what you need to know:

  1. It’s the economy, stupid!

Democrats Phil Murphy and Ralph Northam have been running campaigns based on positive message of economic opportunity. (Watch below)

  1. …while Republicans are running Trump-style social issue campaigns.


Washington Post Editorial: “Having used massive TV advertising buys to whip up the fears and hatreds of his party’s extremists — by equating illegal immigrants with violent Hispanic gangs; by embracing Confederate monuments weeks after they were the rallying cause for neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville; by distorting the facts on rights restoration for a convicted sex offender — the Republican candidate has swapped his cloak as a problem-solver for a demagogue’s mantle.”

Star-Ledger Editorial: “It is this campaign’s Willie Horton ad, and another sign that Guadagno’s campaign can’t be trusted. She’s going entirely Trumpy, using distortion to fan fear of minorities and stir up the white vote — much like the infamous, race-baiting attack ad from George Bush did in 1988, starring Horton, a black felon.”

  1. The map is tougher in off-years, but Democrats are enthusiastic.

In Virginia and New Jersey, turnout tends to be lower and more Republican-leaning in gubernatorial years.
In Virginia, the last three presidential elections have ranged from 71% to 74% turnout, while the gubernatorial elections have ranged from 40% to 45%. That smaller electorate tends to lean more Republican. As the UVA Center for Politics has noted, “Northern Virginia’s vote share has grown over time, but it has tended to decrease slightly in gubernatorial elections compared to the presidential contest the year before.”
When they’ve won, Democrats have traditionally held small margins in the Virginia governors’ races. Governor Terry McAuliffe won in 2013 by 2 percent, and both Tim Kaine and Mark Warner won by less than 6%. Only one Democrat (Gerald Baliles, 1985) has been elected governor by double digits in the last 50 years.
Despite these historical trends, Democrats show strong signs of enthusiasm for the gubernatorial race. The Democratic base is fired up, and that has translated into grassroots enthusiasm for both candidates and record-breaking volunteer programs.
Over the first 3 days of GOTV in Virginia, Democrats knocked on 775,170 doors – already topping the 4-day total of 631,549 from 2013.
Turnout for the primary elections this year reflected this enthusiasm gap:

  1. Republicans in both Virginia and New Jersey struggle with a divided and toxic GOP.

President Donald Trump became the first president since Richard Nixon in 1973 not to campaign in Virginia or New Jersey. But his impact has been felt in both New Jersey and Virginia.
Trump’s diehard supporters aren’t sold on Gillespie, saying he’s a “wishy-washy” “typical politician.” And President Trump himself declined to campaign with Gillespie or attempt to get his base to rally around him.
Gillespie barely squeaked out a primary win over Corey Stewart who ran a Trump-esque pro-Confederate flag campaign. Gillespie still has not secured Stewart endorsement despite now campaigning on those same issues in the general election. Stewart recently said of Gillespie, “He’s put the president at a distance, and he has offended a lot of the president’s supporters. And it could cost him the election.”
The RNC, meanwhile, indicated this summer that it would not be backing Guadagno in New Jersey because she “hasn’t been loyal to the president.”

  1. Both national committees invested heavily in Virginia and New Jersey.

The DGA has made significant investments in both states: Nearly $7 million in Virginia and nearly $4 million in New Jersey.
Meanwhile, the RGA raised and spent significant money in New Jersey.
In November 2016, RGA Chairman Scott Walker laid a marker that Republicans expected to compete and win in both Virginia and New Jersey.  Walker said “We think we can do well in both Virginia – where we have a chance for a pickup – and New Jersey in 2017.”
This September, RGA Chairman Scott Walker and Governor Christie teamed up to host a fundraiser for Kim Guadagno that netted $2.1 million. On top of that, they’ve spent over $2 million on Guadagno’s behalf, in addition to the more than $10 million they’ve invested in Virginia.