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Opinion | This Election Season, Look Out for Virginia

We’re heading around the bend, people! Elections are just a couple of weeks away and the two biggest races in the nation are …

You have no idea, right?

OK, most of the voting is going to be about local government — mayors and council members and holders of even smaller offices. But there are a couple of contests for governor, in Virginia and New Jersey.

It’s Virginia that’s obsessing the world. Or at least the world that’s already terrified about what’s going to happen in 2022 (Dems lose Congress?) or 2024 (Trump? Trump? Trummmpp?).

The candidates are the Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a former governor who left office after one term because Virginia is the only state in the union that makes governors do that. Versus Glenn Youngkin, a former business tycoon who’s chipped in at least $16 million of his own money.

McAuliffe isn’t exactly a pauper — Virginia’s very loose filing rules show he’s worth at least $6.9 million. But he’s always been a star at raising money. He once recalled a political event he was involved in when he was 7: “Nobody got in that door unless I got 50 dollars from them. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, 35 years later I’m still making sure that they pay.″

OK, not all that inspiring, but everybody knows how important money is in these off-year elections. Virginia has evolved into a Democratic state, but what if McAuliffe loses — or just squeaks in? What if the turnout is puny? Will the nation read this as a prelude to disaster for congressional candidates next year?

Democrats can’t think of anything else, and if you’ve wound up on any party mailing lists — truly, it can happen to anyone — you may have been getting more letters about Terry McAuliffe than you got greetings on your last birthday. Certainly bigger presents are involved.

“I’m flabbergasted, Gail … ” reads one of the many, many missives I received from him recently. “We’ve been sending you email after email about just how important this race is, but it’s October, and it’s looking like a tossup right now.”

Given my profession, I have never made a contribution to a political campaign in my life, but this doesn’t seem to have any impact on McAuliffe’s expectations.

One of my all-time favorite donor requests came from Ellie Warner, McAuliffe’s finance director:

“Gail, I’m freaking out right now! I meant to send this email earlier … but I forgot to press send, and now, we’re even more behind on our fund-raising goal than we were before.”

That is so 2021. If, God forbid, McAuliffe somehow loses the election, “I forgot to press send” is going down in modern political history.

New Jersey’s race has also had its moments. Republicans are trying to beat Gov. Phil Murphy over the head with his 2019 remark that if you’re a person whose only concern is tax rates, New Jersey is “probably not your state.”

Now really, this is pretty obvious. Anybody who sits down with the family in, say, Montana, and announces, “Well, we’re going to relocate in the East, and the only thing we care about is taxes,” is not under any circumstances going to discuss real estate opportunities in the Trenton area.

New Jersey is diverting but Murphy is expected to win handily. And the political world won’t be all that impressed. It’s Virginia that’s mobilized a national get-out-the-money campaign.

“Gail, we don’t have much time, so I’ll make this quick,” wrote the political consultant James Carville in a mass email about a “critical fund-raising deadline.”

Carville, who recently referred to himself as “an email-signing slut,” has reportedly sent out over 40 pleas for donations to various campaigns in the last three months, one darkly demanding to know if the recipient wants “Democrats to lose every election from here to eternity.”

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is, of course, online constantly (“Did you see my RALLY in IOWA? It was INCREDIBLE”). He is supporting Youngkin, but not with nearly the enthusiasm he’s dedicating to raising money for his own political action fund.

“President Trump specifically told us he wants this one-of-a-kind HAND-SIGNED football to go to YOU, Friend,” says one missive, looking for a contribution for a chance to be in a drawing for said memento.

In the Virginia race, Youngkin, whose nickname is reportedly “Yunk,” is delicately dancing around the Trump issue. It’s tricky — if you want to be a winning Republican, you have to keep his fans happy while assuring the suburban moderates that you know Joe Biden was actually elected president.

McAuliffe’s job is to make voters turn out, and one main strategy is to terrify them into action. (“I thought folks would be fired up to get out the vote, but at this point, it seems like enthusiasm is at an all-time low.”)

Same thing goes for money. (“You can imagine how confused I am about why people aren’t stepping up and donating. We’re blowing this one, Gail.”)

Everybody’s jumping in. John Fetterman, the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania who’s planning to run for the U.S. Senate next year, wrote suggesting that I split an early bird $10 donation between his campaign and McAuliffe’s. There’s quite a lot of this going on, but Fetterman’s campaign website is notable for including the picture of a dog on the bottom, saying: “Hi, I’m Levi Fetterman. Boop my nose to donate $1.”

Indeed, if you poked Levi’s nose, a special donation box did pop up. Like I said, they’re everywhere.

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