It’s the parents, stupid. On Sept. 29, a day when the RealClearPolitics polling average showed McAuliffe leading with 46.9% support (to Youngkin’s 43.4%), the candidates squared off in a debate. That night, Youngkin made two points that resonated with many voters with school-age children. The first was a broad, pandemic-era complaint: “What we’ve seen over the course of the past 20 months is school systems refusing to engage with parents.”
To illustrate this claim, Youngkin invoked an issue usually associated with cultural conservatives: a bill Gov. McAuliffe vetoed that would have given parents more agency over sexually explicit books in school libraries. “I believe parents should be in charge of their kids’ education,” Youngkin added.
McAuliffe took the bait — and then some. He began his rebuttal by scoffing at Youngkin for being “clueless” because he’d never held elective office. “I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decisions,” McAuliffe added. That would have been sustainable, possibly even deft. But for some reason, he punctuated that thought with these 12 fateful words: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
The Youngkin campaign promptly ran ads consisting simply of a video clip of the exchange. By Election Day, Youngkin pressed his advantage repeatedly. “This is no longer a campaign,” he said. “It is a movement where we are … standing up and saying we have a fundamental right to be engaged in our kids’ education.”
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics
A national Democratic political operative who once wrestled an alligator as a fundraising stunt and served a previous stint as Virginia governor from 2014 to 2018, McAuliffe misread the voters and the issues, repeatedly alienating parents fed up with the liberal hold on local school boards. Extended school lockdowns during COVID awakened mama and papa bears across the country opposed to union control of many local school boards. That concern snowballed this year as parents voiced their opposition to the far-left education agenda, including allowing biological male athletes to compete in girls’ sports as well as curricula focused on racial divisions and influenced by critical race theory.
McAuliffe was still tone-deaf when it came to these hot-button education issues, saying that parents shouldn’t tell schools what to teach in a debate with Youngkin. Later, he claimed everyone in the hall that night clapped when he said it..
On the final day of the campaign, the former Democratic National Committee chairman was so convinced he was on the right side of the issue, he invited Randi Weingarten, the divisive head of the American Federation of Teachers, to stump for him. Weingarten is a favorite target of Republicans, who mock her as the “union boss responsible for shutting down schools” during COVID.
Jessica Anderson, the executive director of Heritage Action for America, a conservative policy offshoot of the Heritage Foundation, argued that the Youngkin victory shows the power of “kitchen-table issues.”
“When parents say how lockdowns & woke policies hurt their children, they stepped up,” she tweeted. “This movements is real and not going away. Elected officials across the country should take note.”
Susan Crabtree is RealClearPolitics’ White House/national political correspondent
Between mask mandates, distance learning, and divisive social justice school curricula, Virginia parents were fed up with educrats telling them how to raise their children. When Youngkin’s opponent, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, said in a debate, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” Youngkin knew he had a winning issue, responding, “You believe school systems should tell children what to do. I believe parents should be in charge of their kids’ education.” This message was then hammered home with self-funded television ads. As a result, Youngkin was leading among parents by 15 points heading into Tuesday.
McAuliffe’s strategy was different. He made every effort to make the race about former President Donald Trump, who lost Virginia by 10 points a year ago, but voters just weren’t buying it. Asking voters to confuse Youngkin with Trump was always a stretch, and it didn’t work.
The end result was an electorate ready to move beyond the suffocating polarization of the Trump era and respond primarily instead to the lamentable and enraging failures of the Democrats actually in power now, and send the arrogant education bureaucracy a message about the direction of schools.
Maybe that is the national implication of the Virginia governor’s race: If Republicans can find political outsiders with the instincts to identify widely popular grassroots issues that the ideologically hidebound Left ignores, and the discipline to stay on message, they can win elections, even in states where they haven’t won in over a decade.
The Washington Examiner
Six factors have been key to Glenn Youngkin’s win over former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe; meanwhile, they also help explain why Republican Jack Ciattarelli has come within a hair’s breadth of besting once-popular New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy.
1. Voters reject COVID mask and vaccination lockdowns. Both Republican candidates made clear they opposed harsh lockdowns, mandatory vaccinations and mask requirements. Murphy ordered every child over 2 to mask up, which didn’t sit well with voters.
2. Black voters didn’t turn out. Black voters were said to be crucial for McAuliffe’s victory, and they did not turn out as they did in 2020. Why? One reason may be mandatory vaccinations. Blacks have been hesitant to take the vaccine, and the firings of blue-collar workers and first responders who won’t accept it may be causing a backlash.
3. Biden’s approval numbers have collapsed. The debacle in Afghanistan, a southern border in crisis, soaring inflation and questions about Joe Biden’s age and mental capacity, have created a brew of disenchantment among voters who are giving the president a thumb’s-down rating in approval polls.
4. Critical race theory backfired. Cultural issues like CRT and gender politics played a major role in the Virginia race. McAuliffe’s claim that parents shouldn’t play a role in what their children are taught, coupled with the recent alleged assault of one female student by a male in a skirt — are issues that rubbed suburban voters who don’t accept “woke” culture the wrong way.
5. It’s the economy, stupid! Massive supply shortages and soaring inflation may be having a more significant impact on voters’ minds than had been supposed. People are seeing gasoline prices jump, and the party in power is paying the price.
6. Trump helped Republicans. McAuliffe and Murphy attempted to paint their Republican challengers as puppets of Donald Trump. Trump did not prove a liability at all, though, and he may have even helped. Voters are clearly feeling buyer’s remorse with Biden, as Trump’s own rising poll numbers suggest.
The outcome fortified Republican hopes of winning back control of the House and the Senate in next year’s midterms. It complicated Biden’s embattled efforts to push his ambitious agenda through a Congress that is still under Democratic control, albeit narrowly.
And it revealed how much the political landscape has been transformed in the year since euphoric Democrats celebrated winning back the White House and holding the House, then seizing control of the Senate with breathtaking victories in two Georgia elections. The appetite for change that boosted Democrats last time undercut them now.
The repercussions are sure to ripple well beyond the borders of the only two states that elect governors in the off-year.
For Republicans, the good news will bolster efforts to recruit strong candidates and raise money for next year’s midterms.
For Democrats, the bad news may prompt some incumbents in Congress, unhappy about a possible return to minority status, to consider retiring or running for some other office. It could alarm congressional Democrats from swing districts about attacks by opponents – and blowback from voters – if they vote for Biden’s stalled $1.75 trillion reconciliation bill.
Susan Page, USA TODAY
It is comprehensible that Nancy Pelosi would wish to end her career by shoveling as much money out of the door as is possible. But it is not at all clear why scores of House Democrats — many of whom prevailed in 2020 in precisely the sort of districts that Glenn Youngkin won — would elect to follow her off the cliff. It cannot be repeated enough that there is no good reason for the United States, which remains intractably mired in debt, to follow up an unexpected $6 trillion, COVID-19-inspired spending spree with another unsolicited feast that, per White House chief of staff Ron Klain, is “twice as big, in real dollars, as the New Deal was.”
Before (Tuesday), the Democrats’ big plans were already faltering. Per Ryan Matsumoto of Inside Elections, Virginia “swung 10-15 points to the right since last November” — a “type of swing” that “would be devastating for them in the House and Senate in 2022.” If that’s not enough to kill the bill, well, then the party really is lost to the swamps.
Charles C. W. Cooke is a senior writer for National Review
“Moderate Democrats are fired up this morning after the losses in Virginia,” reported Fox News’ Chad Pergram Wednesday morning. “That’s why they may hold firm on their demand to decouple a House vote on the infrastructure bill from the broader, social spending bill.”
“Hopefully progressives will get the wake-up call,” added Pergram, quoting an unnamed Democratic source. But if the reaction on CNN and MSNBC last night is any indication, those on the left are not taking their foot off the gas. As Politico reported Wednesday morning, “Dems vow to plow forward on Biden agenda, even after election faceplants.”
According to Politico’s sources within the Biden administration, “The White House is expected to turn up the salesmanship of its plans, arguing that the results in Virginia and New Jersey are in part a reflection that voters want to see Congress get things done, a person close to the White House said.”
Apparently missing the point of Tuesday’s losses for Democrats, Biden will double-down on his massive spending plans because he thinks the GOP’s success was a reaction to him not going far enough? Even if he stays the course and continues hyping up his infrastructure and budget plans — despite failing so far to get enough support to bring either to a vote in Congress — it doesn’t seem like Tuesday’s results put his party in a united position ready to get something in its win column.
Pergram predicted “internecine sniping today on Capitol Hill between moderate and liberal Democrats over the election outcomes and the failure by lawmakers” to reach a deal while Biden was abroad.
Spencer Brown is managing editor of Townhall
The Youngkin campaign discovered that this contingent of angry, willfully ignorant white people was the key ingredient needed to elect a GOP governor in Virginia for the first time since 2009. We can expect more Republicans to try the same gambit as we inch closer to next year’s consequential midterm elections.
Trump’s endorsement could have been a detriment to Youngkin in a state Trump lost by about 10 percentage points last year. But Youngkin managed to endear himself to voters — some of them in liberal enclaves — with a platform designed to shield Americans from the reality of the country’s racist history.
Ja’han Jones, MSNBC
Some progressives are struggling to grapple with these losses and are going the tone deaf, racially-divisive “white-lash” route. Calling people racist is partly how Democrats got themselves into this mess, and it’s farcical and cartoonish to seethe in this particular manner about the victory of a ticket that features the first Black woman ever elected statewide in Virginia, alongside a Latino Attorney General.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com’s Political Editor