The Virginia gubernatorial race concludes in just under four weeks. Democratic candidate and Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam has a lead of 6.8 percent over Republican Ed Gillespie in the RealClearPolitics polling averages. The last time Gillespie led in a public poll was in March. Northam has maintained a fundraising advantage throughout most of the general election campaign and in mid-September had twice as much cash on hand as his rival. Virginia is arguably a “blue state” now, having been carried twice by Barack Obama and then by Hillary Clinton last year (by more than 5 percent). Just yesterday Morning Consult released state-by-state approval ratio numbers for Donald Trump; in Virginia, he was at 42/53, worse than his national average. And then there is Virginia’s historical pattern in gubernatorial elections of almost always voting against the party controlling the White House; the only exception since 1974 was posted by the current Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe.
You’d never know any of these data points if all you had to go by was the mood of Democrats concerning this contest. Earlier this week the Daily Beast’s veteran political reporter Sam Stein wrote that Democrats were “panicked” over Virginia, worried about a lack of enthusiasm for their candidate and the absence of the kind of massive national small-dollar investments in the campaign that characterized the congressional special election in Georgia earlier this year. A prominent Virginia activist penned a piece that rocketed around the internet with this headline: “Heads Up—An Impending Disaster in Virginia.” And Vox’s Jeff Stein penned a classic glass-half-empty assessment noting that polls showed the race as “surprisingly close” while “worried” Democrats fretted over Gillespie’s “culture war” attacks on Northam.
So what’s up with all the “panic” and “worry” and premonitions of “disaster” for Democrats in Virginia, given all the positive objective indicators of the state of the race? Jeff Stein may have touched on the underlying reason:
The Virginia governor’s race this year is making some on the left queasy as a redux of Election Day 2016 ….
Fear is creeping in that instead of beginning to beat back the tide of Trumpism and race-baiting dog whistles, Democrats will once again be submerged in it.
In other words, the more Gillespie’s campaign begins to resemble Trump’s in its borderline-racist savagery about criminal gangs of immigrants and politically correct efforts to take down Confederate monuments, the more Democrats relive Election Night 2016, when all those objective indicators of a Clinton victory proved illusory.
Democrats may be suffering from their own version of PTSD — Post-Trump Stress Disorder — in which pessimism operates as a natural defense mechanism to prevent the kind of shocked disappointment they experienced on the night of November 8, 2016. After all, nothing’s really happened since then to dispel the irrational but powerful sense among left-of-center folk that they and their country are being punished by an angry God using this terrifying president as a scourge. Hopes of a quick recovery from the Trump madness were temporarily raised by Jon Ossoff’s special-election campaign in Georgia, which at one point looked like a certain win, but then that, too, turned out to be another bitter buzzkill.
So perhaps all the bad vibes Democrats are feeling about Virginia have less to do with the race itself than with the daily reality of waking up each morning and realizing that Donald Trump is president of the United States and apparently none of us will deserve good things for the foreseeable future.
Democrats who think that “enthusiasm” and self-confidence are tangible assets in politics should fervently hope that Gillespie doesn’t pull an upset on November 7. It might be enough to raise Post-Trump Stress Disorder to epidemic levels.