Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the chair of the Senate GOP’s reelection committee, calls Glenn Youngkin’s victory in Virginia’s gubernatorial election “a sign of things to come in 2022!”
Youngkin, a first-time candidate who hails from the business wing of the Republican Party, narrowly defeated former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a statewide contest with plenty of national implications. Tuesday’s election in Virginia, a one-time battleground but still competitive state, is seen as a key barometer ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, when Republicans aim to win back control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, where the Democrats hold razor-thin majorities.
And Republicans see Youngkin’s emphasis on tapping into the anger of parents over decisions by their local school boards as a blueprint of how to run campaigns in next year’s elections.
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“The school issue’s going to be a significant issue in ’22,” Scott, a former two-term Florida governor, told Fox News last week.
Highlighting his full-court press on education, Youngkin in his victory speech early Wednesday morning stressed that “we’re going to embrace our parents, not ignore them. We’re going to press forward with a curriculum that includes listening to parents.”
Public school education has traditionally been a leading issue in gubernatorial contests across the country.
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But amid a year and a half of frustration over school closures and mask mandates due to the coronavirus pandemic and the push by conservatives nationwide to target race-focused curriculum, including this year’s well-publicized battles in Northern Virginia’s Loudoun County – ground zero for the education culture wars – Republicans now see education and parents’ rights as a winning issue to try and recapture suburban voters who fled the GOP during Trump’s White House tenure.
An unforced error by McAuliffe further fueled the GOP fire, as Republicans spotlighted a clip from the second and final debate between the two candidates where the former governor said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
In the weeks after the clip went viral, public opinion polls in Virginia showed education surging to become the second most pressing issue on the minds of voters. And the same surveys indicated that McAuliffe, who kicked off his gubernatorial campaign at a public school in Richmond as he spotlighted his education proposals, had lost his advantage on the issue. A Fox News Voter Analysis conducted on Election Day indicated that education was the most important issue for 70% of Youngkin supporters.
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Youngkin spent more than $4 million to run education-related TV ads, and the vast majority of the spots focused on McAuliffe’s gaffe. That helped Youngkin make major gains among the suburban voters who fueled both the Democrats’ blue wave in the 2018 House elections and now-President Biden’s victory over Donald Trump in last year’s White House showdown.
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McAuliffe won Loudoun County, which Biden carried by 25 points a year ago, by just 11 points. Youngkin also well overperformed Trump in Fairfax and Prince William counties in Northern Virginia, Henrico and Chesterfield counties surrounding the capital city of Richmond, and the Hampton Roads suburbs in the southeastern tip of the commonwealth.
While not spotlighting it to the same degree, Youngkin also took aim at critical race theory to energize Trump’s base and other conservative voters. Youngkin scored bigger margins over McAuliffe than Trump did over Biden last year in some of the reddest counties in the western part of the state.
But it’s Youngkin’s performance in the suburbs that’s exciting Republicans looking ahead to the midterms.
Wes Anderson, a veteran Republican consultant and pollster who conducts surveys for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), said that “there’s sort of a perfect storm brewing when it comes to education.”
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Pointing to the NRSC’s latest suburban battleground survey, Anderson told Fox News recently that most suburban voters say their public schools are failing them. And he stressed that the widespread shift from in-person education and move to virtual learning amid the pandemic to prevent the spread of COVID-19, “was a massive eye-opening to millions of parents and they didn’t like what they saw.”
“Looking what’s happening in Virginia, I do suspect that this isn’t going to go away,” he said as he pointed toward next year’s midterms.
It’s already starting.
Even before Youngkin declared victory, the Iowa Republican Party fired off a press release headlined “It has always been about parents.”
With three very competitive House races in 2022, the chamber’s majority may run through Iowa. And the state GOP touted that “Iowa Republicans have focused on Iowa’s parents.”
While taking a drubbing in Virginia, and in New Jersey, where Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy holds a razor-thin margin over Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli the day after the election in a heavily blue state, Democrats publicly say they “will not be deterred.”
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“We will get right back to work. As we say in South Carolina: while we breathe, we hope. Starting today and every single day over the next year, Democrats will remain laser-focused on delivering for working families and making our case directly to each and every voter,” Democratic National Committee chair Jaime Harrison insisted.