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As Biden heads to Virginia, turnout once again will be key in race for governor

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Terry McAuliffe Campaigns For Second Bid As Virginia Governor
Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, D-VA speaks to supporters while campaigning in Charlottesville, Va., on June 4, 2021.Win McNamee / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — If almost every Virginia voter turns out this November like they did in 2020, it’s going to be difficult — if not impossible — for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe to lose in a state President Biden won by 10 points last year.

But not every Virginia voter is going to turn out in this off-year election, which is one of the reasons, historically, why the party that holds the White House has a rough time in this contest.

Since the 1970s, with just one exception, the party that just won White House has always lost this race for governor the following year.

(Even the one exception here — McAuliffe’s win in 2013 after Barack Obama’s re-election victory the year before — was by a mere 2.5 percentage points.)

So as Biden campaigns with McAuliffe in Northern Virginia at 7:45 pm ET today, remember that turnout will be key in deciding the race for Virginia governor.

The higher the turnout in this Democratic-leaning state, the better it will be for McAuliffe. The lower the turnout, the better it will be for GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin.

2020 Presidential

  • Total votes cast: 4,460,524
  • Biden (D): 2,413,568 (54.1 percent)
  • Trump (R): 1,962,430 (44.0 percent)

2017 Virginia Governor

  • Total votes cast: 2,614,065
  • Northam (D): 1,408,818 (53.9 percent)
  • Gillespie (R): 1,175,732 (45.0 percent)

2013 Virginia Governor

  • Total votes cast: 2,241,071
  • McAuliffe (D): 1,069,789 (47.7 percent)
  • Cuccinelli (R): 1,013,354 (45.2 percent)

2009 Virginia Governor

  • Total votes cast: 1,985,103
  • McDonnell (R): 1,163,651 (58.6 percent)
  • Deeds (D): 818,950 (41.3 percent)

2005 Virginia Governor

  • Total votes cast: 1,983,778
  • Kaine (D): 1,025,942 (51.7 percent)
  • Kilgore (R): 912,327 (46.0 percent)

A couple of observations here: One, from 2009 to 2017, the GOP vote totals in Virginia’s race for governor have hovered consistently between 1 million and 1.2 million votes.

Two, in 2017 when Trump became a motivating force for Democrats, Northam’s total soared to 1.4 million votes.

The (nearly) $9 billion cycle

We all know that Virginia’s race for governor is going to be quite expensive — it’s the highest-profile election of the year featuring two well-funded candidates. But what’s really eye-popping is the projected cost of all advertising in the 2022 cycle: $8.9 billion.

That’s the estimate from our friends at AdImpact, who are projecting a massive ad-spending increase ahead of the pivotal midterm elections even without a presidential race on the ballot — about on par with the 2020 presidential cycle.

An $8.9 billion ad-spending cycle amounts to a 128 percent increase in spending from 2018’s midterms. And they’re expecting the money to be doled out relatively evenly: $2.5 million on down ballot races, $2.4 billion on Senate races, $2.3 billion on gubernatorial races, and $1.7 billion on House races, with that number in flux because of how redistricting might play out.

“What is driving this explosive growth?” AdImpact writes in a new report released this week. “The widespread use of Facebook as a fundraising tool ... combined with the rise of easy online donation tools such as ActBlue and WinRed, has allowed candidates and issue groups to fundraise with greater ease than ever before.”

One more fun tidbit from their report (there are many more): Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia, Arizona and California are estimated to account for one-third of total political spending.

You can read more from the report here.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

10 to 15 degrees: The estimated increase in average daily high temperature next week as another major heat wave is expected to cover most of the U.S.

$1.6 billion: The White House’s new investment for Covid-19 testing in high-risk settings.

About 100: How many American Olympians are unvaccinated for Covid-19.

34,451,444: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 66,333 more since yesterday.)

613,596: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 361 more since yesterday.)

339,763,765: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC. (That’s 660,898 since yesterday.)

48.8 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

59.7 percent: The share of all American adults at least 18 years of age who are fully vaccinated, per CDC.

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Dreamers on verge of getting DACA are left hanging after latest court ruling.

Some key voting rights activists say that there’s a disconnect between President Biden’s rhetoric on the issue and his actions.