New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli will square off in the first of two head-to-head encounters ahead of the Nov. 2nd election. At the same time in Virginia, former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin are set to tangle in their second debate.
New Jersey and Virginia are the only two states that hold gubernatorial races in the year after a presidential election, and thus grab outsized attention. And the contest in Virginia, once a top electoral battleground that’s still competitive, is seen as a key barometer ahead of next year’s midterm elections, when control of Congress will be up for grabs.
Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate former Governor Terry McAuliffe debates Republican nominee and businessman Glenn Youngkin at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va. on Sept. 16, 2021 (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File) (AP)
Virginia has shifted blue over the past decade, and it’s been a dozen years since Republicans won a statewide election in the commonwealth. But with five weeks to go until the election, the latest public opinion polls indicate McAuliffe holding a very slight advantage over Youngkin, a wealthy former investment executive who’s poured more than $17 million of his own money into his gubernatorial campaign.
There’s also a long-running trend of Virginia voters defeating the party that controls the White House. McAuliffe temporarily broke that tradition in 2013 with his election as governor. Virginia governors are barred from serving two straight terms.
While New Jersey’s a blue state where Democrats enjoy a registration advantage of roughly 1 million more voters than Republicans, Murphy’s trying to become the first Democratic governor in more than four decades to win reelection. And he’s aiming to break a trend dating back to 1989 that’s seen the party that wins the White House go on to lose the Garden State’s election for governor in the ensuing year.
But Ciattarelli, a certified public accountant who started a medical publishing company and a former state lawmaker who’s making his second bid for governor, trails Murphy by double digits in most of the latest polls in the race.