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Opinion/Commentary: Hopefuls crowd 2021 Va. elections

Opinion/Commentary: Hopefuls crowd 2021 Va. elections

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Only Virginia and New Jersey hold their elections for governor the year after the nation votes for president, and this year a former Virginia governor appears poised to grab an early lead in an already crowded field.

In past decades, campaigns for governor of the Old Dominion and the Turnpike State could be expected to start in the days or weeks after the White House winner received a concession call from the losing presidential candidate.

This year, things are different. In fact, some campaigns for spring 2021 gubernatorial nominations are well underway. Meanwhile in 2020, few pundits expect a timely and gracious White House concession.

Chris Saxman, a former GOP delegate from Staunton who runs the pro-business group Virginia Free, said his analysis of Virginia’s large field of gubernatorial hopefuls puts former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in the lead even though he has yet to announce.

Larry Sabato, who directs the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, noted that the state’s tradition since 1873 of filling the governor’s mansion the year after a White House race gives Virginia voters a whiplash-quick turnaround to the next election cycle. He views October as too early to seriously handicap the field of hopefuls and forecasts significantly less voter interest.

“The main result is that the turnout is much lower in the off-year,” Sabato said. “Also, there would be presidential coattails if the governorship were elected in the same year as president. Instead, coming the year after the president is elected, Virginia and New Jersey become early barometers of public opinion on the new administration in D.C.”

Already 14 candidates have stuck at least a toe in the growing pool of Virginia governor contestants.

Who are the marathon runners in the field for governor already lacing up their track shoes, polishing their records and trophies, and jumping the gun to compete for the cash needed to win the governor’s mansion? Here is a list of the would-be governors in alphabetical order:

» Former state Sen. Bill Carrico, a Grayson County Republican;

» Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, a Prince William County Democrat;

» Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman, a Leesburg Republican;

» State Sen. Amanda Chase, a Chesterfield County Republican;

» Neil Chatterjee, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as a Republican appointed by President Trump;

» Del. and former House Speaker Kirk Cox, a Chesterfield County Republican;

» Peter B. Doran, a Republican and author of “Breaking Rockefeller: The Incredible Story of the Ambitious Rivals Who Toppled an Oil Empire”;

» Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Fairfax County Democrat;

» State Sen. Emmett Hanger, an Augusta County Republican;

» Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a McLean Democrat;

» State Sen. Jennifer McClellan, a Richmond Democrat;

» 5th District Rep. Denver Riggleman, a Republican from Nelson County probably running as an independent.

» Pete Snyder, a Charlottesville Republican businessman;

» Glenn Youngkin, recent CEO of the Carlyle Group and a Great Falls Republican.

Members of the crowded Republican field will fight for their party’s nomination. Although Saxman places Chase in an early lead, he sees many fellow Republicans going after the gun-toting maverick state senator with “a ton of ammo for that.”

“I think Kirk [Cox] will overtake her eventually, but the key is the outcome of the presidential election and the other contestants,” Saxman said. “A dark horse is Youngkin because of his money, outsider status, and suburban appeal.”

On the Democratic side, McAuliffe is facing a bid to compete with three relatively young African American elected officials in McClellan, Fairfax and Carroll Foy, who are seeking their party’s nomination.

The Democratic field of a former governor, a state senator, a lieutenant governor and a delegate has universal big-dollar fundraising power. Each contender will need big bucks for an open party primary next June. As of now, Saxman rates their candidacies with McAuliffe as the leader, followed by McClellan, Fairfax and Carroll Foy.

While 14 are poised for or in the field for next year’s contests for governor, there are closer to three dozen Virginians running for other statewide offices that — at least eventually — might preface a bid for the governor’s mansion.

The historical propensity of winning candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general to aim for the governorship is quite high.

The eight Democrats running for lieutenant governor currently listed by Saxman are: Del. Elizabeth Guzman; Del. Hala Ayala; Norfolk City Councilor Andria McClellan; Del. Sam Rasoul; Sean Perryman of the Fairfax NAACP; Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chair Babur Lateef; Richmond gadfly Paul Goldman; and Xavier Warren, an NFL player agent.

The four Republicans running for lieutenant governor currently listed by Saxman are: Del. Glenn Davis, former Del. Tim Hugo, Lance Allen, and Puneet Ahluwalia.

Saxman gives the current lead among the Democrats to Ayala and among the GOP hopefuls to Davis.

Attorney General Mark Herring, running for re-election, leads a pack with three other Democrats looking to replace him: Del. Jay Jones, Henrico County Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor, and House Majority Leader Del. Charniele Herring.

Saxman lists five Republicans who want to win Herring’s job next year: Del. Jason Miyares; state Sen. Bill Stanley; Tony Pham, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement; Chuck Smith; and Tim Anderson.

Unlike all other states, Virginia’s governor’s mansion gets a new resident every four years, thanks to the Old Dominion’s unique gubernatorial limit banning successive terms.

McAuliffe, if he formally joins the pack of candidates, would be seeking to join only former Gov. Mills Godwin as the second governor to win a second four-year stay in the mansion eight years after winning his first.

Bob Gibson is communications director and senior researcher at the University of Virginia’s Cooper Center for Public Service. The opinions expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of the center.

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