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California's recall was a blowout. Virginia's upcoming election won't be

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.
Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe addresses the FREE Leadership Luncheon in McLean, Va. on Sept. 1, 2021.
Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe addresses the FREE Leadership Luncheon in McLean, Va. on Sept. 1, 2021.Cliff Owen / AP

WASHINGTON — California’s gubernatorial recall turned out to be a blowout — given Democrats’ enormous numerical superiority in the state.

But the upcoming gubernatorial race in Virginia promises to be a much closer contest, due to the state’s history and President Biden’s declining standing.

A Washington Post-Schar School poll released over the weekend found Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe leading Republican Glenn Youngkin by just 3 points among likely voters, 50 percent to 47 percent.

Among all registered voters, McAuliffe’s advantage was 6 points, 49 percent to 43 percent. Both results were within the poll’s margin of error.

That McAuliffe’s lead is smaller among likely voters than it is among all registered voters suggests that Democrats are facing an enthusiasm gap, which isn’t surprising for this election that always takes place the year after the presidential.

Going back to the 1970s, the party that controls the White House has lost this contest every time with the one exception of 2013, when McAuliffe narrowly defeated Republican Ken Cuccinelli after Barack Obama’s re-election win.

The other warning sign for Democrats in this poll is Biden’s job rating at 46 percent, which reflects his national overall numbers in the low- to mid-40s.

That is dangerous territory for Democrats ahead of this Virginia race that’s just 43 days away, as well as heading into next year’s midterms.

Make no mistake here: The Washington Post poll shows McAuliffe with advantages over Youngkin on key issues like the coronavirus and abortion, and Democrats have owned the Virginia scoreboard since 2005.

But the enthusiasm gap and Biden’s lower political standing all point to a close contest six weeks from now.

Biden’s rough week

Speaking of the president’s lower political standing, we’re not sure the events over the past week are going to improve things.

You had:

  • The Pentagon admitting its drone strike in Kabul killed up to 10 innocent civilians.
  • Thousands of Haitians crossing into the U.S. border (though some were later expelled).
  • France recalling its U.S. ambassadors over a submarine-deal dispute.
  • The FDA nixing approval for Covid boosters for those older than 16 years of age (but approving them for seniors and those with high risks).

Then there are the legislative setbacks:

  • The Senate parliamentarian rejected using budget reconciliation to give undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship.
  • Axios reports that Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., wants to delay any vote on reconciliation until 2022.
  • Politico reports that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema won’t support reconciliation if House Dems delay or reject the Sept. 27 vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal.

We told you that after Biden’s brutal August, September likely wouldn’t get any better for a while.

One other thing regarding Biden’s legislative agenda: Many Democrats keep acting like they have something greater than a 50-50 Senate majority, where Manchin and Sinema aren’t calling the shots.

But in fact, after failing to defeat Susan Collins in Maine, Thom Tillis in North Carolina and Joni Ernst in Iowa — as well as losing House seats in 2020 — Democrats are walking on quite the tightrope.

Where Manchin and Sinema do calls the shots.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

8: The number of people dead, and 28 injured, after a shooting at a Russian university.

320: The number of Haitian migrants deported from a massive encampment in Texas Sunday, with more on the way.

7: The number of days it took for the coronavirus case count in America to grow from 41 million to over 42 million.

42,122,409: The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 274,212 more since Friday morning.)

677,900: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 3,776 more since Friday morning.)

385,586,012: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC. (That’s 2,547,609 more since Friday morning.)

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

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

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Former President Trump’s unfounded claims of widespread election fraud have prompted counties where Trump won big to try to investigate their results too.

Women who work for the Kabul city government are being told by the Taliban they can’t work.

Ohio State Sen. Matt Dolan is running in the state’s crowded Senate primary.

Authorities believe they have found the body of Gabby Petito, the 22-year-old woman who had disappeared after a cross-country road trip with her fiancé.