Glenn Youngkin, the deceitful right-wing Republican billionaire running for governor of Virginia is awful, really awful. I hope he gets his head handed to him 3 weeks from Tuesday. If I lived in Virginia, however, I couldn't imagine myself voting for a turd like Terry McAuliffe, who embodies everything that's wrong with the Democratic Party... from corruption to neoliberalism. My friends in Virginia have been asking me to keep my mouth shut about him. And I mostly have... but today I just couldn't keep up the charade of pretending McAuliffe is anything more than a somewhat lesser of two evils-- so, I'm afraid to say, evil. McAuliffe is puke and, I'm sorry to say, he doesn't deserve progressive votes. And now he's panicking, moving right and counting on Democrats voting for him as the lesser evil while he pursues conservative votes. It won't work; this race is going to be much closer than it should have been.
His campaign strategy has been to turn out the base so he's been focused on decent pronouncements that made him sound like a normal centrist Democrat. In a typical Washington Post state of the race article yesterday, Marc Fisher reported that emotions are high. Virginia was part of the Confederacy and part of Nixon's racist Southern Strategy. The state had basically turned redd in the '50s and then blue in 2008 when Virginians backed Obama over McCain 52.6% to 46.3%. Even Hillary won the state (with a narrow plurality) and then Biden beat Trump last year with the highest percentage (54.1%) for a Democrat since 1944, when Virginians gave FDR a 62.4% to 37.4% win over Thomas Dewey.
Fisher began his report with the story of a disaffected Democrat who is reverting back to his conservative roots, angered because Democrats "he believes public schools are pushing a radical agenda in which American history is portrayed as racist, and transgender kids are encouraged to use the bathroom of their choice."
In the country’s biggest electoral showdown of the year, Virginians are deciding whether to return McAuliffe to office, making him only the second governor in state history to serve a second term, or turn to Youngkin, a wealthy political neophyte. The outcome, strategists from both parties agree, will hinge on which candidate best generates enthusiasm from his base, overcoming the traditionally sharp falloff in voting in the year following a presidential election.
Three weeks before Election Day, the race is closer than either party had anticipated. McAuliffe seeks to capitalize on Virginia’s strong shift toward Democrats in recent years, even as his party and President Biden struggle through a rough season in Washington, facing the continuing pandemic, a plateaued economic recovery and intraparty battles over Biden’s plans to invest in infrastructure and social programs.
In recent days McAuliffe has also reverted to form, complaining about the scope of the Build Back Better Act and then today, on State of the Union, backing the position of the Republican wing of the Democratic Party, basically that the infrastructure bill should have been passed, regardless of how that would tank any chances of the reconciliation bill bill to pass. You like Sinema, Manchin, Gottheimer, Schrader, Correa? McAuliffe is your man. The problem with eschewing McAuliffe though, is that Youngkin's campaign is overtly racist, trying to woe white suburbanites back to the GOP with ugly racist tropes. "To many in the all-White audience," wrote Fisher, "the pledge to push back against social changes-- many parents said they resented seeing their children taught to declare which pronouns should describe them-- was catnip."
For Youngkin, who needs to surmount the 10-point margin Virginia voters gave Joe Biden last fall, the push to excite voters is two-pronged: To stir up Trump’s base, he’s focusing on culture wars issues (“guns, God and country,” as Del. Bill Wiley (R) put it as he introduced Youngkin at a rally in Winchester) and especially on banning schools from emphasizing the role race has played in U.S. history.
At the same time, to reach Republicans and independents turned off by Trump, Youngkin is presenting himself on TV as a genial suburban dad who’s open to compromise and doesn’t strike suburban voters as scary or disruptive.
McAuliffe relentlessly attacks Youngkin as two-faced, “a Trump wannabe” dressing up as a moderate. “He’s a fraud,” the former governor said in an interview. The TV image of Youngkin as a soft-spoken, hoops-playing, moderate is nothing but “an act,” McAuliffe said. “The guy has been endorsed by Donald Trump four times.”
...[Strong] critiques of Trump are driving many Democrats and independents to come out to vote for McAuliffe. On the ballot or not, Trump is a proven vote-generator in Virginia. In the last governor’s race, in the first year of Trump’s term, turnout jumped from 43 percent of registered voters in 2013, when McAuliffe won the post, to 48 percent. The Trump effect was most evident in big spikes in turnout in heavily Democratic areas such as Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria in the D.C. suburbs.
Some Republicans worry that the suburban voters Youngkin needs to win over are fearful enough of covid’s impact that they’ll be alienated by a candidate who opposes mask and vaccine mandates.
“In a world where covid has emerged as a serious threat, people in my district are frightened,” said Del. David LaRock, a pro-Trump conservative who is the only Republican remaining among state House members representing Northern Virginia. But LaRock (Loudoun) said Youngkin is connecting both with voters who want full-throated support for the vaccines and with those who oppose mandates.
“When Youngkin offered to do a public service announcement for vaccines and opposes mandates, clearly he’s reaching for both segments, and it’s working,” LaRock said.
He believes covid concerns are being outweighed by the debate over what should be taught in classrooms and what he called “the transgender ideology”-- issues that get big play on Fox News and other conservative media and that many voters cite as a primary reason they’re for Youngkin.
Some Democrats similarly worry that McAuliffe’s focus on covid concerns may not be enough to overcome complacency on the part of some voters who came out in record numbers last fall to defeat Trump.
Despite Biden’s easy win in Virginia last November, Del. Joshua Cole (D-Fredericksburg), campaigning for McAuliffe and his own reelection, said he is meeting “a lot of voters who say, now that we’ve gained control of both chambers in Richmond and in Washington, can we get a break from all these elections?”
Cole, who is Black, did not support McAuliffe in the Democratic primary this year. “I wanted a woman,” he said. McAuliffe handily defeated two Black woman legislators in June and now leads Youngkin among Black voters by 87 percent to 7 percent, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll. In 2013, McAuliffe was lifted to victory by his 90 percent share of the Black vote.
Cole has embraced McAuliffe, but as he knocks on doors in his exurban district, which reaches north of Fredericksburg toward the D.C. suburbs, he finds many voters who say they support Cole’s reelection-- but will also vote for Youngkin.
“They see him as someone who’s not as polarizing as Trump,” Cole said, “and some of them are fatigued by the national Democrats. We try to draw them back to Virginia issues such as affordable housing and traffic.”
“We need to say, ‘Wake up, ye sleeping beast,’” said Cole, a pastor serving his first term in Richmond. “Virginia is a blue state, but if our base doesn’t show up, we could have Youngkin as governor.”
...Phil Cox ran the last successful Republican statewide campaign in Virginia, managing Bob McDonnell’s race for governor in 2009. Now, Cox believes Youngkin has a strong chance to win because Republicans and independents “are angry and motivated.”
“With inflation, rising crime and the border crisis, the Democratic brand is damaged goods right now,” said Cox, former executive director of the Republican Governors Association. “So their only play is to tie Youngkin to Trump, but Virginians know Trump’s not on the ballot.”
Virginia has become a more Democratic state over the past decade, Cox said, but by portraying the Democratic Party as having shifted too radically to the left, Youngkin can win over voters looking for a reasonable center.
Mark Cranmore has voted for Democrats, such as Sen. Tim Kaine, and for Republicans, such as Trump. He wouldn’t repeat that one. “No way in hell,” he said.
Next month, Cranmore is voting for Youngkin, mainly to balance things out. He likes it when the two parties split power-- it encourages them to actually deal with each other, “because,” he said, “if we don’t start getting along, I don’t know what’s going to happen to us.”
Ruby Pierce, an independent who lives in Berryville, was shopping for a candidate who’s neither extreme nor dishonest. She’s vaccinated against covid-19 and likes McAuliffe’s focus on curbing the virus, but doesn’t want children to have to wear masks at school. She wants teachers to get a big raise, but likes Youngkin’s message about parents taking control of what’s taught in school.
“I agree with both of them on the vaccine,” Pierce said. She has voted for Kaine and other Democrats in the past, but she went with Trump for president twice, though now she says, “He’s so yesterday.” She said she’s appalled by people who refuse to get the shot as a way of showing support for Trump — “the most ridiculous thing I ever heard.”
That positions Pierce squarely in the middle, which is where she thinks Youngkin is. “He’s a fresh start,” she said. “McAuliffe had his chance. Time for someone else.”
Both sides consider the race a toss-up, and both believe the candidate with the more enthusiastic base will prevail.
But what does enthusiasm look like right now? Is it the early voting numbers that show far more people casting ballots so far-- especially in Democrat-heavy northern Virginia-- than did at this point four years ago? Is it the slight edge McAuliffe holds in several recent surveys? Or is it the thin margin Youngkin has in a couple of polls measuring the depth of voter interest in the race?
“In an off-off year election,” Cox said, “intensity matters more than ability to persuade uncommitted voters.”
When will Democrats learn to not run crap candidates like Terry McAuliffe? Probably never... and certainly not while the Democratic voter base holds its collective nose and votes for them.