Virginia Is the Test Kitchen for 2022 (and the GOP Has a Big Advantage)

AP Photo/Cliff Owen

The Virginia gubernatorial election is tight, way tighter than anyone would have guessed even a couple of months ago. Glenn Youngkin, the Republican in the race, is averaging a little under two points behind Terry McAuliffe, Democrat and former governor of Virginia, in the RealClearPolitics average. Virginia is pretty solidly blue, so this alone should worry Democrats a bit.

In fact, the most recent poll, which comes from Monmouth, shows them in a virtual tie and Youngkin leading on one particular issue: Education.

But there is some other data that isn’t public you might want to be aware of.

First, a couple of sources have indicated to me that both the Democratic and Republican parties are showing roughly 60-65% of Americans do want Congress to investigate the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. That doesn’t necessarily mean that 60-65% of Americans think that this was a definite insurrection attempt, but that there is concern over what happened.

Likewise, I’ve also gathered from a couple of sources that Democratic tracking polls show McAuliffe’s lead growing while some behind the scenes polling in Virginia shows Youngkin overtaking McAuliffe. If we assume that this data roughly cancels each other out, then the RCP average holds. McAuliffe is probably currently in the lead, but it’s still very tight.

McAuliffe has made his campaign about Donald Trump. He has tried tying Youngkin to Trump, reminded Virginians of the Charlottesville riots, kicked up dust about January 6, and everything else he can to keep Trump fresh on the minds of Virginians. In particular, he wants northern Virginians riled up and at the polls on election day.

This is what the Democrats’ data is showing them gives them the best chance. This is also the Democrats’ strategy in 2022, and Virginia is the testing grounds for it. The party is also trying to the infrastructure, voting rights, and reconciliation issues through in order have a legislative agenda to run on as well. The plan is to keep things national. Keep bringing up Trump and juxtapose the “chaos” of his presidency and legacy against their legislative accomplishments.

Youngkin’s campaign, however, is following the old adage that all politics is local. Trump is not an issue in his campaign and never was. Instead, they are focusing on very real parent anger at local school boards. The Republicans will, likewise, keep things local in districts across the country ahead of the 2022 elections. Their data is showing very real anger across the board and they will use that.

Virginia gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin.
AP Photo/Cliff Owen

Yesterday, I pointed out that Jen Psaki is replying to concerns over inflation and supply chain issues with smug divisiveness that will turn off voters. It is emblematic of the Democrats’ overall failure to recognize what is happening at the local level. They believe that the pushback against Critical Race Theory, school shutdowns, mask mandates, and the like are all just Republican activists stirring up trouble. They will not admit that there is genuine dissatisfaction with public schools and it isn’t just white Republican parents who are feeling it.

Nor do they really understand that inflation and supply chain issues aren’t just upper-class problems. They are problems affecting the middle and lower classes at a much more devastating rate. They are convinced that the “real Americans” Republicans point out as hurting from Biden’s policies aren’t real at all.

All of this is coming to a head in Virginia. The Democrats’ best chance to win is to make all those federal employees in northern Virginia stand in solidarity with them and make those national issues really stick. McAuliffe really did anger a lot of parents when he said he didn’t think they should have a say in what is taught in their kids’ schools. I don’t think he or the Democrats understand that yet.

During the Obama years, the Democratic Party was virtually wiped out at the local level, save for major urban areas and deep blue states. By the time Obama left office, Republicans had more legislative houses, governor’s mansions, and city governments than they’d ever had before. Democrats really had no bench at the local or even state levels. They became so fixated on the national level that they ignored it, thinking they had something of a permanent majority – or at least one that would last longer than four years.

But they didn’t.

Despite it all, Virginia is a blue state. It wasn’t purple going into this gubernatorial season, but the Democrats have focused so hard on the national in this race and failed to understand the issues that drive voters at the local level that they are in a bind. McAuliffe can’t really walk back his statements on parents and schools. He is trying, but it’s not working. That is why Youngkin appears to be leading on the issue of education and why the race is so close.

If it comes down to local versus national in 2022, and it appears Virginia really is the testing ground for these strategies, it looks like the GOP has an edge. As blue as Virginia is, a Republican gubernatorial candidate should not be as close as he is. Even if McAuliffe still wins, if it’s within a few points then the Democrats need to panic. Biden won the state by ten points. Anything over a six-point drop less than a year is a bad, bad sign for them.