The Democratic candidate is leading in the final polls before Election Day, ahead by 3.3 points in the RealClearPolitics average the night before voters head to their polling places, but Democrats are still nervous.
The leading candidate is Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the Democratic nominee for governor of Virginia. But these words could just as easily have been written about Hillary Clinton a year ago. That fact is what has Democrats on edge.
Some Democrats see similarities between Clinton and Northam as candidates, while Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie's bare-knuckled television campaign ads have borrowed a page from President Trump's pugilistic playbook.
"Well, it's like Hillary Clinton is on the ballot in our state," said a Virginia-based Democratic strategist. "Northam is the establishment candidate who has many of the things on paper that you'd like to see in a candidate but he suffers from a lack of charisma and excitement. That's not helpful in a low-turnout race."
"Exacerbating that problem, the Latino Victory Fund ad handed Republicans an opportunity on a silver platter to energize their base. It was a very poor decision to run an ad like that, especially so close to the election," the strategist added.
This ad showed a truck displaying both a Gillespie bumper sticker and the Confederate flag menacing minority children, urging Virginians to wake up from this nightmare and vote for Northam. It was pulled after a terrorist ran people over in a rented truck in New York City.
The Northam campaign disavowed the ad, which had shades of Clinton's remarks about "deplorables," while the firm that produced it, 76 Words, emailed out the spot the night before the election, saying, "We’re proud to have made the ad below. It does what advertising at its best is meant to do — make people talk, make people engage and make people respond."
"In Virginia, Ed Gillespie simply wrote a new chapter in an old and hateful playbook that runs backward from Donald Trump to Willie Horton to Jesse Helms, and far into the worst of our past," the email read, arguing it was time for progressives to fight back.
After the controversy, Northam was then seen as equivocating on "sanctuary cities" that do not fully cooperate with federal immigration enforcement, earning a rebuke from the liberal group Democracy for America. The organization's executive director accused Northam of playing "directly into the hands of Republicans' racist anti-immigrant rhetoric on sanctuary cities," adding "we refuse to be silent any longer and even remotely complicit in the disastrous, racist, and voter-turnout-depressing campaign Ralph Northam appears intent on running."
Democracy for America's founder, former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, dismissed his old group's statement as an "incredibly stupid thing to say."
That's why some in the Democratic Party fear the circular firing squad they avoided when Northam won the primary over Bernie Sanders-backed former Congressman Tom Perriello by a bigger than expected margin will reemerge when it counts most, another replay of 2016.
"Northam, also like Clinton, had virtually no economic message and got into skirmishes that would have been better to avoid while instead talking about jobs and increasing economic opportunity for Virginians — and while using Trump to excite the Democratic base to turnout, especially women voters," the Democratic strategist said. "A loss will fuel the fire of the simmering existential crisis in our party that will likely continue through the next presidential election that began thanks to the Sanders v Clinton campaigns."
All that being said, four of the most recent polls show Northam with leads of 1 to 5 points. The last poll to show Gillespie ahead was conducted by Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway's former firm, the Polling Company, between 10/30 and 11/2.
"I think Northam will win unless there's an abnormally high turnout of Trump supporters, which is what Gillespie is shooting for," said a second Democratic strategist.
Other Democrats are still worried. Not only are they still recovering from the psychic shock of losing a presidential race they almost universally thought they would win — polling data guru Nate Silver was criticized for even giving Trump a chance while Clinton held a polling lead roughly as big as Northam's now — against a candidate they believed was unfit to serve.
But in the last gubernatorial race and a 2014 Senate contest in which Gillespie was the Republican nominee, the GOP overperformed the polls at the ballot box. The Democrats won both races anyway, but Northam's lead may not be sturdy enough to withstand Republicans overperforming again.
This time around several pollsters have included at least one pre-election weekend day in their final surveys. Only two did in 2013, none did in 2014. In theory, that means the polls should better capture any late break toward Gillespie and the GOP.
Until the final election results are in, however, Democrats who have been disappointed before won't let their guard down.