In Virginia, It Was McAuliffe's to Lose (and He Just Might Have)

AP Photo/Cliff Owen

I do not want to take anything away from Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin. He has run a fantastic campaign and has been very good on his message, particularly after Terry McAuliffe admitted he thinks parents should not be involved in their kids’ education. The Republican Party could use a lot more politicians like Youngkin, people who are decisively their own person and not defined by anyone else.

That said, this has always been McAuliffe’s race to lose. Ralph Northam won the state by nine points, and Biden won by 10. McAuliffe, though, has been a terrible candidate (and always was). His floor should have been four or five points ahead of Youngkin based on the voters of Virginia, but that is not the case today.

The race to be Virginia’s next governor is a tie if you look at the polling average. RealClearPolitics has Youngkin up 1.7 points over McAuliffe, but that’s with the Fox News poll that had him up by eight. If you take that poll out, he is up 0.4 points. The trend is very clearly in Youngkin’s favor, which in a state that has been pretty reliably blue is a bad sign for McAuliffe and for national Democrats.

Whether or not Youngkin squeaks or perhaps if McAuliffe squeaks it out, this race has really opened up the struggles the Democrats have going into the 2022 midterms.

They have banked a lot on national issues, Trump, January 6, voting rights, infrastructure, reconciliation, and what Washington can do. They have done very little to address the economy or COVID-19 in any meaningful way beyond advocating for vaccines. They have completely ignored the local issues like education, and they have deemed issues like inflation, gas prices, and supply chain problems as “high-class issues.” By keeping things national and aloof from the issues affecting voters and what they’re feeling at this very moment, the Democrats have failed to keep hold of Virginia voters.

And it is not like these issues will suddenly disappear overnight or even in a couple of months. It could be a long economic recovery under the best circumstances, and the Biden administration is not working to create the best circumstances. Voters will remember the things that affect their wallets and bank accounts far more than they’ll remember about the latest green initiative proposed by a climate change council set up by Congress.

Possibly Virginia Governor Youngkin?
AP Photo/Steve Helber

None of this is helped by how bad a candidate McAuliffe is. Despite the fact that he has been a lifelong political operative, his own political instincts are abysmal. The one soundbite about how parents should have no say in how their kids are taught has been disastrous to his campaign. He and his campaign have consistently made race and Donald Trump the key issues of the campaign rather than the very real pain that people are feeling at the gas pumps and in grocery stores.

On the education issue, we’ve seen the poll numbers shift considerably. Parents are furious for a variety of reasons. The Democratic candidate argued on camera that they should stay out of the education of their children. Unions fought to keep their kids out of school. Critical Race Theory has driven people out to school board meetings protesting their children being treated as nothing more than oppressors and victims. A school board tried to cover up sexual assault.

Youngkin has a lot of likeability. He is able to connect and he is able to empathize. McAuliffe has not been able to do either of those things and voters have fled him. They are terrified of what McAuliffe would mean for an education system they are more fearful of than ever before.

For those of you not in Virginia, this is just as important to you as it is to Virginia itself. The playbooks of both parties are on display right now, and this is how races will be run a year from now. Joe Biden is dragging his party down and they will have to run without him in 2022, especially if 64 percent of Democrats are, at best, unsure if they want Biden to run for re-election in 2024. Democratic Party governance is not working, and the voters have taken notice. The Democrats, though, don’t seem all that eager to change their ways.

That bodes well for Youngkin today, who may pull this one out. It also bodes well for Republicans in 2022 and beyond.