To Republicans, Virginia represents the promise of renewal, the chance to rebuild their party in a fairly forbidding state — and without having to make the difficult choice of fully embracing or rejecting Mr. Trump. Addressing supporters near a farmer’s market in Old Town Alexandria Saturday morning, Mr. Youngkin said his victory would send “a shock wave across this country.”
Suffering yet another loss here, though, would make it clear to Republicans that they cannot continue to delay their internal reckoning over the former president and that, even in exile, his unpopularity remains the party’s biggest impediment.
Because Mr. Biden carried the state by 10 points last year, and Mr. McAuliffe began the race with an advantage befitting the former governor he is, the most significant implications in Virginia are for Democrats. The party is also haunted by recent history: Their loss in the 2009 Virginia governor’s race — the last time Democrats controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress — foreshadowed the party’s electoral wipeout the following year.
Should Mr. McAuliffe lose or barely win, moderates will demand immediate passage of the infrastructure bill. Liberals will argue that the Democratic Party, and democracy itself, are in such a parlous state that they must push through new voting laws. And strategists across the party’s ideological spectrum will be made to contend with a political playing field in the midterm elections that stretches deeper into blue America.
“We’re going to have to change our calculation of what’s a race and look at the districts Trump lost,” said Rebecca Pearcey, a Democratic consultant. “Even if he wins,” she added, referring to Mr. McAuliffe, “we’re going to have to reassess what the map looks like on Wednesday, because Tuesday is not going to be a pretty night.”
With Mr. Biden’s approval ratings tumbling among independents thanks to Covid-19’s summer resurgence, the botched Afghanistan withdrawal and rising inflation, Democrats are also bracing for additional retirements among lawmakers who would rather not run in a newly redrawn district or risk ending their careers in defeat.
Already, three House Democrats announced their departures earlier this month. Mr. McAuliffe’s defeat in a state Mr. Biden so easily won would likely accelerate that exodus because lawmakers will chalk it up to the president’s unpopularity. “We’re going to see a lot more by the end of the year,” predicted Ms. Pearcey.
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