Seeking to deflect the significance of Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s loss in the Virginia governor’s race to Republican Glenn Youngkin, President Joe Biden wrongly claimed that “no governor in Virginia has ever won when … he or she is the same party as the sitting president.”
In fact, McAuliffe, himself, was elected governor of Virginia in 2013, when Democrat Barack Obama was president (and Biden was vice president). In that race, McAuliffe edged out then-Republican state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
And while it has been rare, there are other instances as well. In 1969, when Republican Richard Nixon sat in the White House, fellow Republican Linwood Holt won Virginia’s gubernatorial election.
Four years later, the Virginia governor’s race was won by Mills Godwin. Godwin served his first term as the state’s governor from 1966 to 1970 as a Democrat. But when he ran for a second stint in 1973, it was as a Republican. Nixon was still in office then, too.
Biden was right to note that the prevailing pattern has been that Virginia voters tend to elect governors from the party in opposition to the presiding president.
As Slate noted, Youngkin’s win “now makes it 11 out of the last 12 governor’s races in the state that the party not controlling the White House has won.”
“This pattern is not a coincidence. One year after an election, the base voters of the party that just lost a presidential race are going to be pissed off and wake up each morning dreaming of the next time they can vote against the president’s party,” Slate’s Jim Newell wrote on Nov. 3. “The president’s party’s base, meanwhile, can’t match that level of enthusiasm. The president, whom everyone was so excited to elect the previous year, takes ownership of national problems and sags, or plummets, from their postelection high.”
In his remarks on Nov. 3, Biden acknowledged, “People are upset and uncertain about a lot of things — from COVID, to school, to jobs, to a whole range of things, and the cost of a gallon of gasoline.”
But Biden tried to hang at least some of McAuliffe’s loss on historical precedent and gave McAuliffe credit for more votes than he has received so far.
Biden, Nov. 3: I was talking to Terry to congratulate him today. He got 600,000 more votes than any Democrat ever has gotten. We brought out every Democrat about there was. More votes than ever has been cast for a Democratic incumbent — I mean, not incumbent — a Democrat running for governor. And no governor in Virginia has ever won when he is of the same — where he or she is the same party as the sitting president.
Although only 95% of the precincts had reported by the time this story was published, McAuliffe had already won 170,000 more votes than Democrat Ralph Northam got in 2017 (though Northam got 53.9% of the vote and won the election). But it did not appear that McAuliffe would garner 600,000 more votes than Northam got.
McAuliffe, however, may very well end up with 600,000 more votes than he did in 2013, when he won with only 47.8% of the vote. In 2013, Libertarian Robert Sarvis got 6.5% of the vote.
But had McAuliffe won this time, it wouldn’t have been the first time a Virginia governor was elected from the same party as the sitting president. As McAuliffe himself would well know.
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