Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin speaks during a campaign event in Alexandria, Va., October 30, 2021. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

All eyes are on Virginia this election day as a last-minute surge in the polls for Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin has his party hoping for an upset — and his rival scrambling to avoid one. 

For months, polls showed Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate and former governor of Virginia from 2014 to 2018, in the lead. When early voting began on September 17, Terry McAuliffe was up five points in the RealClearPolitics average.

Then, on September 28, McAuliffe infamously said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” and his fall from grace began. 

Individual polls began moving in Youngkin’s favor almost immediately, and the Republican took the lead in the RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight averages late last week.

Education has emerged as a main focus of the gubernatorial race, with parents in Virginia having coalesced to push back against school boards that have implemented various controversial COVID-19 policies, transgender policies, and the teaching of racialized curricula in public schools. While Youngkin has vowed to ban the teaching of critical race theory in Virginia schools on his first day in office, his Democratic opponent has denied CRT is taught in Virginia schools, defining the concept down to its postgraduate form and refusing to acknowledge its adaptation for younger children.

A stunt orchestrated by the Lincoln Project against Youngkin last week has also generated outrage on the Republican’s behalf. The anti-Trump, anti-Republican organization claimed credit for organizing a white supremacist stunt in front of Youngkin’s campaign bus on Friday, but not before several staffers from the opposing campaign used the incident to bash the Republican candidate for Virginia governor.

The group said it sent the tiki torch–wielding group to remind Virginia voters of the white-nationalist march that took place in Charlottesville in 2017 and “the Republican party’s embrace of those values, and Glenn Youngkin’s failure to condemn it.”

Still, it wasn’t until just last week that polls began to really shift in Youngkin’s favor — and more than 1.1 million early votes already have been cast, a figure that represents nearly 44 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. 

While it’s anybody’s race, a win for Youngkin could serve as a blueprint for future GOP takeovers in swing areas and could send a message to both parties on how to win a race in the post-Trump era after McAuliffe repeatedly tried to paint his opponent as “Glenn Trumpkin.” Youngkin, for his part, resisted being tied to Trump positively or negatively.

Virginia changed how it processes early votes and now requires localities to process absentee ballots in the seven days leading up to Election Day. This means ballots can be counted immediately after polls close at 7 p.m. Election Day ballot counts will likely be posted shortly after as well, around 9 p.m., according to the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, several lower-profile races will reach their conclusion on Tuesday as well, including the New Jersey gubernatorial race and the New York City mayoral race.

Less attention has been paid to both tri-state area races as many took it as a forgone conclusion that Democrats would easily breeze to victory, at least in the New York City race.

In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy would be the first Democrat reelected as the state’s governor in 44 years, if he wins against Republican opponent Jack Ciattarelli, a former Assembly member and small businessman.

State Democrats have won by at least 14 points in six of the last seven presidential elections, by nine or more points in seven straight Senate races, and by 14 points in Phil Murphy’s first race for governor in 2017. However, the governorship has traditionally jumped back and forth between the parties, with no Democratic governor having been reelected since 1965 despite winning the position by double digits. Republicans defeated incumbent Democrats by 3.6 percent in 2009 and 1 percent in 1993, and similar ultra-tight races in 1997 and 1981.

Though Murphy repeatedly made errors in judgment in guiding the state through the COVID-19 pandemic, leading the state to have the highest death rate of any political subdivision on the planet and also the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the country, Murphy still enjoys a lead of 7.8 points, according to RealClearPolitics.

Polls show Murphy’s lead shrinking in recent weeks: the Democrat’s lead fell from 16 points in August to 13 in mid-September and 11 in late October, a Monmouth poll found; an Emerson poll in mid October found Murphy’s lead down to six points and his favorability just below 50 percent (a 49–47 advantage).

The Emerson poll shows Ciattarelli with a 24-point lead among independents (56 percent to 32 percent). This could prove dangerous to Murphy, who won independents by four points in 2017, according to exit polls. Ciattarelli also leads by nine points with men (50 percent to 41 percent); in 2017 Murphy won men by 15 points (56 percent to 41 percent).

Ciattarelli leads among Hispanic voters by three points (45 percent to 42 percent) while Murphy won them by 65 points four years ago (82 percent to 17 percent). Ciattarelli also draws 20 percent of the black vote, compared with 4 percent for Republican Kim Guadagno in 2017.

Meanwhile in New York City, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 7-to-1, Democrat Eric Adams is poised to become the city’s second black mayor. Adams, Brooklyn’s borough president and a former NYPD captain, will face off against Curtis Sliwa, a Republican who founded the Guardian Angels and owns more than a dozen cats.

Adams, a centrist who beat out a crowded field in the Democratic primary — New York’s first major race to use ranked-choice voting — has campaigned on curbing crime and improving quality of life in the city, while addressing abuses of power within the NYPD. Sliwa has focused on policing as well and has criticized Adams for meeting with former gang leaders.

Other Election Day measures to look out for include ballot initiatives around the country, particularly in Minneapolis where a proposal is on the ballot to amend the city charter to allow the police department to be replaced by a Department of Public Safety overseen by the mayor and city council. City Question Two, if approved by voters, would remove language from the charter requiring a minimum number of police officers based on the city’s population.

While the new department “could include” police officers “if necessary,” it would take a “comprehensive public health approach” to safety, including sending mental-health workers to certain calls. The proposal comes in response to the killing of George Floyd last year by then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, which sparked a national racial reckoning.

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