Exactly one month from today, voters in Virginia and New Jersey will go to the polls to elect a governor. Both sides are trying to nationalize the election, highlighting issues that they hope will play to their party’s strengths in the midterm elections next year.
In Virginia, Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin is neck and neck with Democrat Terry McAuliffe as the same issues roiling the national electorate are being debated there.
The polls one month out have been consistently close.
In survey after survey, McAuliffe and Youngkin seem to be at a virtual standstill. A Roanoke College poll conducted in mid-August showed McAuliffe leading by 8 points; the same survey released this week showed him leading by 7. Monmouth gave McAuliffe a 5-point advantage in late August, and a 5-point advantage in a poll released this week. Trafalgar, a Republican-leaning firm, put McAuliffe ahead by 2 points in early July, and by 1 point in late August.
Virginia is proving to be an interesting state for both parties. Once reliably red, it has trended blue in recent national elections with the 2020 election resulting in a Democratic takeover of the legislature for the first time since the beginning of the 21st century.
But that win, as well as recent victories in presidential elections by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden, seems to have roused the Virginia GOP out of a strange lethargy. They are ready and eager to do battle.
But do they look to the past for their inspiration and find it in Donald Trump? Or do they look to a future beyond the former president and find the answers elsewhere?
For his part, Youngkin rarely mentions Trump by name. He said he is seeking to build a coalition of “forever Trumpers, Never Trumpers, single issue voters, libertarians, Tea Party folks,” along with Democrats and independents who have become disillusioned with the party’s leftward shift and its ability to govern.
He’s testing just how big the Republican Party’s tent can be, but his approach is already raising questions from Trump, who told a Richmond radio station last week, “The only guys that win are the guys that embrace the MAGA movement.”
Trump is right to a certain extent. Let’s just say that nobody who disses MAGA has much of a chance.
Youngkin is trying to ignore the 2,000-pound elephant in the room. But McAuliffe invited the beast in and asked it to sit down and make itself at home.
In a recent debate, McAuliffe played right into Trump’s hands when he said, “I’m not going to let parents come into schools, and actually take books out, and make their own decision.”
Worse, the Democrat doubled down in a subsequent interview. “Listen, we have a board of ed working with the local school boards to determine the curriculum for our schools. You don’t want parents coming in in every different school jurisdiction saying, ‘This is what should be taught here’ and, ‘This is what should be taught here.’”
Yes, he really said that.
The question is how much damage his desire to freeze parents out of school decision-making will do. The Virginia governor’s race isn’t getting much airplay nationally and the media isn’t predisposed to damage the prospects of a Hillary Clinton loyalist.
But McAuliffe didn’t say anything that Democrats haven’t been pushing at the local level for years: Parents need to sit down, shut up, and let the education “experts” determine what their children “need” to learn.
If Democrats want to make this race and subsequent races in 2022 about mandates vs. freedom, parental control of children vs. state control, Republicans across the country are saying, “Bring it on.”