GOP pollster and strategist Frank Luntz predicted Tuesday that Republican Glenn Youngkin is likely to defeat Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Virginia’s close gubernatorial race, setting up a shaky midterm season for President Joe Biden and his party next year.
On CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” Luntz said, “There’s about an 80% chance that the Republican nominee beats Terry McAuliffe,” who served as Virginia governor from 2014 to 2018. Youngkin is a former CEO of private equity giant The Carlyle Group.
“The Democrat is the incumbent and it looks like the incumbent is going to lose,” Luntz added. Democrat Ralph Northam, the current governor of Virginia, can’t run for reelection because governors can’t serve more than one term in a row in the commonwealth.
Pollsters and politicians look to Virginia as a predictor of the midterms, when control of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate are up for grabs.
“There have been four times when the party that’s been on the outs has won the House from the incumbents, four times in the last 50 years,” Luntz said. “Every one of those four times, 100% Virginia has predicted the outcome, which is why everybody’s watching it so closely.”
Democrats hold slim majorities in both chambers of Congress.
Luntz said Biden’s favorability ratings are falling fast in Virginia, but they’re not as low as former President Donald Trump‘s numbers. The pollster said this race is not necessarily a referendum on Biden or Trump.
Biden and former President Barack Obama have campaigned for McAuliffe. By contrast, Youngkin has eschewed virtually all public campaign visits from well-known Republicans, including Trump. Neither tack has really moved the needle.
With Virginia leaning Democratic by only about 3%, according to Luntz, the result could boil down to turnout. Early voting numbers in the commonwealth hit record highs ahead of Election Day on Tuesday. Roughly a fifth of Virginia’s 5.9 million electorate cast early ballots, nearly six times more than in 2017.
If Republicans win, the Democrats can use the loss as an argument against policies pushed by their progressive colleagues, according to Luntz. Biden’s spending bills could still pass, but at a smaller price tag than progressives want, he added.
Despite Tuesday’s results or the 2022 midterms, Luntz said in the “Squawk Box” interview, “If you’re watching this show, odds are you’re going to pay more taxes in 12 months.”
“It’s not going to be confiscatory,” Luntz said. “There’s not going to be this destruction of estates and savings and small businesses if Republicans win in Virginia, but there’s still going to be a tax increase.”
Americans can still expect an infrastructure package and social spending programs, he added. “But it won’t be as extreme as it would have been.”