Being Right: Virginia and New Jersey voters need to make a change in November. Unfortunately, they probably won’t.

Patrick Taylor, Contributing Writer

While Virginia and New Jersey are physically located over five hours apart, they do have some important elements in common. Beyond both being part of the original thirteen colonies and holding off-year gubernatorial races, both appear to have become reliably blue states in recent years (at least at the national level). This is in spite of both states previously possessing rather swingy electoral records. For instance, New Jersey was home to a surprisingly close presidential race as recently as 2004, and its citizens re-elected then-Governor Chris Christie by a wide margin in 2013. Likewise, Virginia has long been contested by both major parties. While their most recent Republican governor left office in 2014, statewide margins in the Old Dominion have consistently remained closer than that of my native Garden State.

In summary, both of these states should be winnable for the Republican Party under the right conditions. And political observers may have reason to believe that the conditions are right this year for the two states’ governor’s mansions to flip parties. President Joe Biden’s approval rating continues to languish in the mid-40s according to most pollsters, and his underwater statewide polling numbers in Virginia specifically are leaving many Democrats concerned about the upcoming election. While there has been considerably less hype generated by the numbers coming out of New Jersey, polling data suggesting that incumbent Governor Phil Murphy’s lead over Republican candidate Jack Ciattarelli has shrunk by seven percentage points since August, and the fact that no Democratic governor has been re-elected since the 1970s, are encouraging for Republicans.

Based on these positive signs for the G.O.P., alongside the fact that the Republican nominees in both states are business-friendly, mainstream candidates, one would suspect that my view of the elections would be less pessimistic. However, my hopes that the Republican nominees prevail in these two off-year elections are reduced by the fact that their Democratic opponents are just not hated enough.

To illustrate my point, I would recommend analyzing the 2010 New Jersey gubernatorial race. After a less-than-successful first term as governor marred by a government shutdown, an unpopular attempt to raise tolls on the Garden State Parkway and a questionable relationship with a married union leader, former Senator and Goldman Sachs executive Jon Corzine was a particularly vulnerable candidate for re-election. Governor Phil Murphy, for all his many flaws, does not have the same weaknesses, and as a result, has amassed a fairly strong approval rating.

Given Governor Murphy’s tenure thus far, he has little reason to be the favorite for re-election. While putting in place highly restrictive COVID-19 policies for less vulnerable populations and small businesses, he enabled a crisis in New Jersey nursing homes with only marginally different policies from his friend and then-New York counterpart Andrew Cuomo. According to New Jersey’s official numbers, about 40 percent of those who died with COVID-19 in New Jersey, as of May 2021, were long-term care residents. Also during his tenure, New Jersey has consistently been ranked the most moved-from state in the country, which many attribute to its immense cost of living. Murphy has certainly done little to drag this cost down, instead opting to declare New Jersey a quasi-sanctuary state and inexplicably renaming the office of county freeholder for less-than-sound reasons. If his draconian COVID-19 requirements and exacerbation of New Jersey’s cost of living had received more scrutiny from the media, perhaps Murphy would not find himself seemingly destined for a win in November. As it stands, however, I am not inclined to predict an upset victory for moderate Republican Jack Ciattarelli (though I personally voted for him, and encourage my fellow New Jerseyans to do the same).

Though occurring under similar circumstances, Virginia’s gubernatorial election features a markedly different dynamic than that of New Jersey. Most notably, comments made by former Governor and current Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe have sparked fierce debate over red-meat, “culture war” issues. Conservative activists have bristled over McAuliffe’s insistence that parents not play a role in their children’s education. Generally speaking, the incorporation of social issues into blue-state electoral politics is bad news for Republicans. This time, however, it seems to have backfired for McAuliffe, a relatively milquetoast party insider whom many had previously predicted would return to the governorship comfortably.

A common view among the Virginians I spoke to prior to my writing this article is that Virginia is a state undergoing vast changes in a number of ways. In dealing with changes ranging from mass migration from other states and countries, to increased influence from Big Tech corporations like Amazon, to massive levels of social upheaval with respect to the state’s history, many Virginia voters merely desire steady, traditional leadership from the governor’s pulpit. As such, it is not a comfort to these voters to hear from their state’s gubernatorial frontrunner that they not even be allowed a say in something as crucial as their child’s education. Naturally, Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin, a pragmatic businessman with deep pockets, has seized this opportunity to repeatedly denounce his opponent in a series of advertisements and stump speeches.

While recent developments are certainly a glimmer of hope for Virginia Republicans, it is important to note that Youngkin still consistently trails McAuliffe by low single-digits. So, while this race is far more winnable than New Jersey’s, Terry McAuliffe remains the favorite due to favorable polling data, his past experience as governor and Virginia’s increasingly Democratic-leaning populace.

I recognize that it is important to the conservative cause that my fellow travelers in the movement remain “happy warriors,” and hold onto hope for future victories. However, I also believe that we must not over-inflate our expectations. If Republicans do lose these races, conservatives must keep their heads high anyway and proceed to the 2022 midterm elections in high spirits. Losses in two blue states, however disappointing they may be, ought not shake our determination.