Voters in Virginia go to the polls to select their next governor, in the first major battleground election since 2020’s fractious presidential race.
Democrat Terry McAuliffe will be aiming to defy history as he attempts to become governor for a second time; only once in 50 years has a candidate from the party that holds the White House won the off-year election.
Republican Glenn Youngkin has seen his poll numbers surge as he sought to make culture war issues such as critical race theory a central feature of the race.
FiveThirtyEight’s polling average shows Mr Youngkin with a slim lead of 47.9 per cent, compared to Mr McAuliffe’s 47 per cent.
The polls will close at 7pm EST, and a large number of results could be reported straight away, according to NBC pollster Steve Kornacki.
Start of a long and exciting day and night. We'll be live starting at 6:45 tonight, and it's very possible we'll be getting a lot of votes reported right after polls close at 7. Hope you'll tune in! https://t.co/fx3F7rgAIN— Steve Kornacki (@SteveKornacki) November 2, 2021
But given how tight the race is likely to be, it could take several hours before the winner is declared.
Some local polling officials estimate that votes cast in-person on the day will be tallied by 9pm.
President Joe Biden won Virginia by 10 percentage points in the 2020 election, and the state has been trending blue in recent years.
But the Republican candidate has capitalised on national issues such as the economy, supply chain issues, and the Democrat Party’s inability to pass critical infrastructure and social spending legislation.
A school bathroom sexual assault case in Loudon County was seized on by right despite there being no evidence that the attacker’s gender was a factor.
Changes to how votes are counted are likely to impact the timing of the results.
Virginia’s General Assembly has changed its election laws this year to require election officials to begin preprocessing absentee ballots at least seven days before Election Day.
During last year’s presidential election, officials only began processing most of the absentee ballots after polls closed, resulting in lengthy delays in results being known.
The first ballots counted, in-person votes cast on Election Day, heavily favoured Donald Trump. Absentee ballots tend to favour Democrats.
That meant once voting stations had processed absentee ballots, Mr Trump’s lead vanished at around midnight and Mr Biden ended up winning the state by 10 points.
With the changes to how votes are counted, Mr McAuliffe could take an early lead, but once in-person votes are tallied polls suggest the race will come down to the wire.
Mr McAuliffe was a healthylbusinessman and longtime Democratic fundraiser who won the Virginia governor’s race in 2013, the only time in the last half a century that a member of the same party as the president has won the off-year election.
He called on Barack Obama, Mr Biden, Kamala Harris and other Democratic stalwarts to campaign for him.
This was in stark contrast to Mr Youngkin, who wouldn’t say if he wanted Mr Trump to join him on the campaign rail.
Mr Youngkin is seen as an establishment Republican, and spent 25 years as in private equity before entering politics.
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