THIM ONLY The man who served two terms as governor of the Old Dominion since the Civil War was a courteous, segregationist “Gentleman of Virginia” called Mills Godwin. Hailing from the rural south of the state, whose large black population and racism reminded us of the Deep South, Godwin claimed that letting black children attend the best schools in Virginia “would be a cancer that eats away at the lifeblood of our system. ‘public education’. It’s interesting to wonder what he would have done with Terry McAuliffe, who looks well positioned to match his November feat.

Flamboyant, some might even say shamelessly, “the Macker” is a New York native who served as governor in 2014-18 and formerly known as a Clinton pal and incredibly good fundraiser. He allegedly inspired (although he denied it) a plan for Airbnb the Lincoln room to major backers from Bill Clinton. He once battled a 280-pound alligator for a $ 15,000 giveaway to Jimmy Carter’s re-election campaign. Godwin and the Macker, who won the Democratic primary in Virginia last week in a blowout, have two big things in common.

Both have transformed their reputations in the office. The segregationist ushered in the first sales tax and bond issuance in Virginia, leading to new roads and a community college system. The Macker, working around a militant Republican legislature, re-emancipated 173,000 ex-criminals, nearly half of whom were African-Americans. He was also as effective a salesperson for Virginia as he had been – as the youngest bank president of the United States – in business. He boarded a fighter jet to impress the aerospace industry, played a revolutionary war general on television to attract the entertainment industry, and set up a kegerator in the governor’s mansion to woo the beer industry artisanal. If he didn’t fight another alligator, it’s because Virginia already had three zoos. A popular governor with a decent economic record, he was likely denied a second consecutive term just because the Commonwealth forbids him.

By luck and good judgment, Mr. McAuliffe and Godwin also benefited from Virginia’s two biggest political changes since reconstruction. Godwin won his first term, in 1965, as a Southern Democrat. But as the south swung to the right after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, he won his second, in 1973, as a Republican. Unusually in Virginia, he did so when he was on the same party as the outgoing president. Forty years later, Mr. McAuliffe was the next candidate to pull off that feat, confirming how much Virginia had come back to the Democrats. The state now has its first Democratic legislature in a quarter of a century, has not elected a Republican to a statewide post since 2009, and last November it chose Joe Biden over Donald Trump with a ten point margin.

The comparison of these radical changes is instructive. Voters who left Democrats for Civil Rights in the 1960s and 1970s were white, mostly working class and more radicalized than either party’s patrician establishment. In contrast, the new left voters in the affluent suburbs of Richmond and northern Virginia are diverse professionals who mostly recoil from a Republican establishment captured by the craziest minds on its base.

Mr McAuliffe’s opponent in November, Glenn Youngkin, a very wealthy political newcomer, was one of the more moderate candidates in the Republican primary. Yet to win it, he was forced to declare allegiance to Mr. Trump, perhaps Virginia’s most unpopular politician, and tacitly endorse his lie that the general election was stolen. The former private equity lord launched an “Election Integrity Task Force” and called a Trumpist conspiracy theory on voting machines the “most important issue” of the campaign. That sums up the handicap Republicans face in all states with vast suburbs, including Arizona and Georgia, as well as Virginia. They try to win them back while leaning into the extremism that commuters hate.

That’s a bigger benefit for Mr. McAuliffe than his government record (which jaundice voters, unlike in Godwin’s day, are likely to put aside these days). So he nicknamed his Republican opponent “Trumpkin” and is trying to get Mr. Trump involved in the race, ideally by visiting the state. “Oh my God, I’m going to pay for its essence to come!” The irrepressible Macker told your columnist. “But I’m telling you he’s scared of me, he’s not coming here, we keep beating them!”

The main weakness of Democrats also appears in the race. It is that the talkative left thinks the new party supporters have come to it in a big revival, not, as it does, by default. In the primary, leftists suggested that Mr. McAuliffe’s candidacy was an affront to his three black opponents in the primary. By giving him 62% of the vote in a five-horse race, Democratic voters rejected that and pointed to another Democratic advantage in the process. The moderation of the party’s new suburban voters reinforces the hitherto underestimated centrism of its African-American base, which in Virginia makes up one-fifth of the electorate. Mr. McAuliffe, who spoke relatively little about race while promising to increase education spending and job creation, thus won the primary vote in every city and county in the state.

A Macker for all seasons

As a competitive state, which holds one of the first statewide votes after a general election, Virginia has long been a major political straw in the wind. Despite his recent penchant for the Democratic Party, this year will be no different. There is so much at stake. Mr. Youngkin will test Republicans’ ability to detoxify now that Mr. Trump is no longer on the ballot. The party’s anti-democratic drift, perpetuated by Mr. Youngkin, will be all the more threatening if they are successful. In front of them is the author of “Quelle fête!” My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators and Other Wildlife ”. The hour comes, comes the Macker.â– 

This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the headline “And in the Blue Corner”