Glenn Youngkin, left, and Terry McAuliffe campaigning in Virginia.
Anna Moneymaker | Getty Images; Win McNamee | Getty Images
Virginia gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin remain neck-and-neck in polls ahead of next week’s highly competitive race for governor, but Democrats lead in early voting.
McAuliffe, the former Democratic governor who is seeking a comeback, leads his Republican opponent Youngkin by one percentage point in a Washington Post-Schar School poll released Friday.
McAuliffe hit 49% among likely voters polled while Youngkin was close behind at 48%, well within the poll’s margin of error of four percentage points. The poll was conducted from Oct. 20 to 26.
This shows a tighter race than the previous Washington Post-Schar School poll from mid-September, which found McAuliffe leading by three percentage points.
The race for governor in the commonwealth is much closer than Democrats had hoped, especially given their winning streak in statewide races since 2012 and President Joe Biden’s 10 percentage point win over former President Donald Trump in last year’s election.
McAuliffe has held a polling advantage over Youngkin, a former executive of global investment firm Carlyle Group, in recent months. But the gap has narrowed as the Republican candidate seized on hotly contested issues such as parental control over education, which has mobilized his partisan base.
The tighter-than-expected race now hinges on voter turnout.
Democrats have taken the lead in early voting ahead of Virginia’s Election Day on Nov. 2.
At least 858,473 Virginians have already submitted ballots, according to data from Democratic data firm TargetSmart. The state’s voters have until Saturday to vote early.
Roughly 54% of those voters so far are likely Democrats, while 30.7% are likely Republicans, according to TargetSmart. About 15% of early voters are unaffiliated, the TargetSmart data found.
Voters do not register by party in Virginia but TargetSmart predicts partisanship based on data from previous elections.
Despite Democrats’ early lead, experts say Republicans could outperform them on Election Day and close the gap.
Republicans are less likely to vote early in the wake of the 2020 presidential election when former President Donald Trump slammed mail-in voting and falsely associated it with voter fraud.
But their enthusiasm about voting in the election could result in high turnout next week.
According to a Monmouth University poll released last week, Youngkin’s supporters are more excited to vote in the upcoming election by nearly 23 percentage points.