First, there is the relative state of the parties in Virginia. In the last two gubernatorial races, the Commonwealth was within one point of the national trend (based upon the prior presidential election). This time, Virginia is D+3 from the nation – a nation that was itself D+2. That gives Northam a built-in advantage no Democrat has ever had in the competitive era (since 1965).
Second, there is the presence of the Libertarian Party – which in Virginia usually bleeds votes from Republican nominees. In 2013, it was enough to get Terry McAuliffe elected despite winning only 47% of the vote.
Speaking of winning and percentages, the Democratic nominee is the only Virginian since 2012 to win over 50% in a statewide election. Northam has achieved something that eluded both McAuliffe and Herring in 2013, Warner in 2014, and Kaine in 2016 (despite being the Vice Presidential nominee).
Fourth, contrary to what Shaun would believe, the Democrats are more united than the Republicans. Tom Perriello offered his support to Northam less than three hours after the polls closed. We’re approaching 21 hours without a similar endorsement of Gillespie from Corey Stewart. Shaun has tried turning this weakness into a virtue (perfectly understandable given Stewart’s campaign), but it still leaves Gillespie at the leading of a divided party.
Fifth, we have turnout factors. At this point, it is a given that the Democratic base will be enthused to vote – largely out of anger at President Trump. Republicans are hoping that anti-anti-Trump anger can drive their base to the polls. I could be wrong, but I’m not seeing it. Unlike 2014, there is no Dave Brat shock to energize anti-establishment Republicans (and to encourage them to play nice with establishment-friendly nominees).
Finally, there is the rest of the ticket. The divisions exposed between Gillespie and Stewart were also revealed in the LG race, where Bryce Reeves won 40% of the vote with straight-up homophobia (don’t take my word for it, take Jim Hoeft‘s). In contrast, the Democrats chose a candidate with experience running a statewide race (Justin Fairfax). The Attorney General contest is between the incumbent and an Adams – in the state where Thomas Jefferson was born and died.
Now, this is not to say that the Democrats are certain to win: certainties don’t even work for the past anymore, let alone the future. It is to say that Northam et al are in better position than Republicans – including Shaun – would have you believe.