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Virginia voters head to the polls in governor's race seen as referendum on Biden and Trump

Virginia and New Jersey ready for gubernatorial races
Virginia and New Jersey ready for gubernatori... 03:59

Former Democratic Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin are locked in a tight race for Virginia governor, and the end result may provide signs for both parties on what it takes to win in the post-Trump era, as well as during Mr. Biden's first year in office. 

A Republican hasn't won statewide in Virginia since 2009, one year into former President Obama's first term, when Republican Robert McDonnell won the governor's race by 17 points. For over 40 years, the party in control of the White House lost Virginia's governor's mansion the next year, but McAuliffe broke that streak in 2013.

Throughout the summer, McAuliffe maintained a single-digit lead over Youngkin in public polls, though Youngkin put campaign advertisements on the airwaves weeks before McAuliffe. 

But Youngkin has the momentum heading into Tuesday. He's kept Mr. Trump at bay, refusing to do any events where Mr. Trump is involved. He's instead been on a 10-day, 50-stop tour throughout the commonwealth to close the race and has focused on two main local issues: education and the economy. 

Glenn Youngkin,  Terry McAuliffe Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images

This approach has boosted Youngkin into a tie or within the margin of error with McAuliffe in the last two weeks of polls, and leading by double digits with independent voters.

Marie Kinner and Joseph Cruz are two Filipino-Americans who are voting for Youngkin. Both cited his plans on repealing the state's grocery tax and enabling parents to have a greater say in schools as primary reasons for their choice.

"I'm a widow and I'm raising three kids. I don't want [Democrats] to raise more taxes. Life is already difficult now," Kinner said, as she stood in line for a Youngkin event in Prince William county, which has voted for Democrats by double digits since 2013. Kinner voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 and 2020.

Cruz, a first-time voter, said his support for Youngkin is also in response to Mr. Biden's first year, specifically his handling of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

"We see minority voters actually supporting Republicans for the first time in a long time and that's because we in fact are going to go deliver on the things that are most important to Virginians: low taxes, the best jobs, best schools, safe communities," Youngkin told reporters after a crowded event last Saturday in Alexandria, Virginia. "These issues are universal."

Mr. Biden has seen his approval ratings decline to the mid-40s in the weeks leading up to this race. McAuliffe said in early October he is facing "a lot of headwinds from Washington… the president is unpopular today unfortunately here in Virginia."

"Our politicians are not making any decisions on infrastructure. People feel we worked so hard, came out to vote in 2020, and they feel as if nothing is getting done," Princess Clark-Windell, a Democratic voter, said while in line to see McAuliffe and Mr. Biden at an event in Arlington, Virginia.

McAuliffe and Virginia Democrats have consistently tied Youngkin to the former occupant of the White House, in an attempt to dial into animosity towards Trump that fueled the commonwealth's transformation to a more Democratic voting ground that voted for Mr. Biden by 10 points.

Democrats have to his primary convention campaign in May, when he had "election integrity" as his only posted policy plan.

McAuliffe, and those who have hit the campaign trail for him, including Mr. Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Mr. Obama, have called Youngkin "a Trump acolyte," "Trump in khakis" and a "Trump wannabe."

But while McAuliffe has focused on abortion rights, especially in relation to the ban in Texas, and his plan to invest $2 billion in education in the closing days of this race, McAuliffe's core campaign message tying Youngkin to Trump to motivate Democrats may have mixed results. 

"[Trump] really doesn't matter. I would have voted for McAuliffe despite Trump ever being elected. He stands for the things that have meaning to me," said Beth Goley, a Democratic voter at a McAuliffe campaign event with Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. 

The appeal that Youngkin holds for many voters is that his manner seems more like that of a moderate than of a Trump acolyte. Voter John Brothers said he doesn't think Youngkin is "much of a Trumpite."

"He's a conservative Republican and at this point in history you cannot be a Republican and not bend the knee to Trump, or you won't get elected," he told CBS News outside of a polling center in Stafford county in northern Virginia. "So everyone does it… but [Youngkin's] got more in common with Mitt Romney than he does with Donald Trump."

Other Democratic voters, like Jesus Rodriguez, brought up Mr. Trump's role in the January 6 insurrection and saw their vote in Virginia's race as "an issue of defending our institutions"

"A lot of my Republican friends, they feel like if they win this election that they were right about what happened in 2020," said Rodriguez, who didn't vote in the 2016 presidential election but voted for Mr. Biden in 2020. "They'll feel very enthusiastic going into the 2022 election."

Both sides are expecting a tight race and a winner to be declared late Tuesday night or during the day on Wednesday. More than 1.14 million early ballots have already been cast in person or by mail, about 40% of the turnout in 2020. 

Polls in Virginia are open from 6 a.m. EST to 7 p.m. EST on Tuesday. As long as a voter is in line by 7 p.m. they can cast their ballot. Mail ballots postmarked on election day have to be received by noon on Friday, November 5 to be counted. You can look up your polling place here

Fin Gomez and Sarah Ewall-Wice contributed to this report.

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