Democrats are on edge as polls show Republican gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia making shockingly strong runs — as both elections are seen as predictors of the GOP’s chances of winning back the House and Senate in the 2022 midterms.
Gov. Phil Murphy looks to be ahead of his Republican challenger in New Jersey, but recent polls show Jack Ciattarelli has been able to cut into his lead before Election Day on Tuesday.
A Monmouth University poll released last Wednesday showed Ciattarelli 11 percentage points behind Murphy — 51 percent to 40 percent — but the Republican was down 17 percentage points in the same poll in August.
Two other surveys that came out last Thursday and Friday show Ciattarelli, a former state legislator and businessman, just nine percentage points behind Murphy.
Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said he detects a shift over the past five years when Democratic candidates have won by about 14 points in New Jersey.
“What we’re seeing with where the race is now is that the Democrat is slightly underperforming in part, in large part I think, because of what we’re seeing nationally,” Murray told the Washington Examiner.
He also compared the New Jersey race to the governor’s contest in Virginia, where Democrat Terry McAuliffe, running against challenger Glenn Youngkin, is “underperforming what the fundamentals suggest would happen there.”
“It’s happening in both states, so that suggests it’s something national driving that,” Murray told the newspaper, suggesting political gridlock in Washington may be the driving factor.
“That has lowered Democratic enthusiasm nationwide, as there’s governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey. That’s where we’re seeing it play out,” Murray said.
In Virginia, McCauliffe, who served as governor between 2014 and 2018, and Youngkin are neck-and-neck, but a recent poll shows the Republican gaining ground.
A Fox News survey from last Thursday shows Youngkin ahead by eight percentage points (53 percent to 45 percent) and a Fox 5 DC/Insider Advantage poll released Monday found Youngkin leading by two percentage points (47 percent to 45 percent).
Earlier polls gave McAuliffe a slight advantage in the now-blue state of Virginia.
President Biden defeated former President Donald Trump in Virginia by 10 percentage points and by 16 percentage points in New Jersey last November, propelled in large part by suburban voters.
But since taking office, Biden’s fortunes have been on a downward trend.
His polling numbers are underwater, his legislative agenda consisting of the infrastructure and social spending plans are stalled in Congress and his administration’s military pullout of Afghanistan in August was marred by chaos that led to the deaths of 13 US service members.
“Virginia is a very blue state — I do not consider Virginia a purple state — so the fact that we’re this competitive speaks volumes about the state of our country and the popularity of Biden,” Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel told the Associated Press.
Jamie Harrison, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, acknowledged that a Youngkin win would be a “doomsday” scenario, but was optimistic that Democratic voters would turn out for McCauliffe in force.
“I’m not running around with my hair on fire, not at this point,” he told the wire service.
While the issues in New Jersey have centered around taxes, the economy and the coronavirus pandemic, in Virginia education has become the major focus — namely the controversy surrounding the teaching of critical race theory.
McCauliffe has also been trying to connect his Republican opponent to Trump, even running ads quoting Youngkin talking about the 45th president.
Biden, stumping for McCauliffe last week in Virginia, mentioned Trump’s name 24 times in a 17-minute speech.
But recently McCauliffe has been saying the election is not about Trump, leading CNN’s Dana Bash to joke about the Democrat’s constant comments about the former president.
“You mentioned Donald Trump. I’m glad I have two cups here so I can keep drinking when you mention Donald Trump’s name,” Bash said.
Christian Martinez, the rapid response director for Youngkin, used the clip to reiterate the campaign’s point that McAuliffe “only ever talks about one thing … Donald Trump.”