Virginia governor race: why this election has huge national implications, including for Trump and Biden
“Trump backed him for the tenth time today,” McAuliffe said after the former president issued a new statement on Monday supporting his opponent. “What does that tell you? The little people of MAGA, not as excited as you thought. McAuliffe even went so far as to say Monday night that Youngkin was “having an event” with the former president, although a Youngkin aide confirmed to CNN that the Republican candidate had not called a rally organized by Trump. Monday evening.
It can be dangerous to extrapolate too much about the political fate of the nation from a single race. And what happens on Tuesday will not define the critical congressional elections in 2022 or the presidential duel of 2024.
But Virginia and New Jersey are often seen as referendums on a new White House since they vote a year after the presidential election. They offer the first real health check in Biden’s first year in office, after suffering a brutal summer and struggling to implement his massive social spending and infrastructure plans. A loss of McAulliffe would be seen as a disaster for Democrats and a sign that voters have already turned on them. And even a narrow victory in a state Biden won easily in 2020 would likely still be seen as a warning sign for Democrats and suggest that their political position has seriously eroded after a year of control of the White House and the United States. two chambers of Congress.
Exceptionally, the previous presidency – with its racial overtime and violent end – also hovered over this campaign in Virginia, testifying to Trump’s still extremely divisive role in American politics. Violent cultural and ideological clashes have rocked this campaign and are already starting to shape the mid-course races. Youngkin looked at a fierce conservative reaction to progressives’ push for transgender equality and an accounting of America’s past racial sins in teaching history in schools.
And Virginia – with its rich and diverse suburbs and conservative rural areas, as well as the strongholds of African-American voters around the state capital of Richmond and towards the coast – offers a demographic profile of America in miniature. .
Maybe it’s time for the GOP
Until then Sen. Barack Obama won Virginia on his way to the White House in 2008, Virginia was considered a strong, conservative southern state for presidential votes, even electing some Democrats statewide. But he’s turned blue in the last four presidential elections, which is one of the reasons McAuliffe’s struggles this year – after a successful tenure between 2014 and 2018 – are surprising. (Virginia does not allow governors to serve consecutive terms).
National cultural struggles over masks and vaccines electrified the race for governor, while Youngkin exploited existing frustration with distance education for months during Covid-19 to gain an audience for his more partisan messages on the rights of parents to decide how their children are taught about America’s racial history. He also spoke of several alleged assaults on schools in pro-democracy Loudoun County, which sparked controversy over the rights of transgender students.
McAuliffe left the door wide open with a misguided comment during a debate earlier this year, when he said: “I don’t think parents should tell schools what they should be teaching.” Youngkin took the comment out of context, but in retrospect, that’s when his campaign really gained traction as he continued his rival’s lead in the polls in October and made the race one. dead end on election day.
Trump hovers over the race
Despite all of McAuliffe’s claims that a victory by his nemesis would open the door to another Trump presidential campaign, the former Republican investment banker did a clever job of not being Trump. Framing his campaign on local issues, despite its national implications, and pledging to increase spending on education and remove the tax on groceries, Youngkin attempted to appeal to residents of suburban Virginia while sending coded messages to Trump’s voters that he must produce in large numbers.
Youngkin did not campaign with Trump – whose low ratings in the country’s suburbs helped condemn his party in the United States House in 2018 and in the Senate and White House in 2020. But the The former president’s statement backing Youngkin on Monday sounded like an attempt to claim credit for his victory if he wins.
The imposing, mild-mannered Youngkin emerges as a bad role model for McAuliffe’s Trump-fueled attack – an issue Obama, one of the Democratic heavyweights imported to boost McAuliffe’s campaign, addressed at a rally last month. “You can’t run ads telling me you’re an ordinary old man who plays hula hoops, washes the dishes and wears fleeces, but quietly cultivate the support of those who seek to tear down our democracy,” Obama said.
Youngkin failed to win the Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties suburbs on Tuesday. He just needs to do well enough, especially with independents, to limit McAuliffe’s advantage while driving Trump’s core voters down state.
If he wins, Youngkin will validate a possible model for future Republican candidates who wish to broaden their attractiveness but must also avoid alienating the Trump base. He has already demonstrated the power of leading a campaign focused on parents frustrated with public schools. And given the scale of the task he faced, a victory for Youngkin would crown a new GOP star – especially for conservatives who envision a post-Trump future.
A Youngkin victory would raise questions among Democrats about whether tying GOP candidates to extremism and the ex-president’s undemocratic incitement is a viable strategy for 2022. And yet, Trump – who appears to be using midterms as a springboard for his own eventual 2024 campaign and backing candidates who promote his lie that the last election was stolen from him – is likely to be a pervasive and explosive presence next year that will be difficult for all ballot candidate to escape.
But anything less than a clear victory for McAuliffe would assume that Democratic House seats in Virginia could be in serious jeopardy next year if there was a similar turnout. Given the slim majority of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, there would be panic among dozens of Democrats over a possible GOP rout next year, which could possibly precipitate a wave of departures at the retirement of the holders of threatened seats.
A close race or a small McAuliffe win will also be watched closely for further signs that Trump and his cronies will seek to fuel their lies about a flawed electoral system and allege voter fraud. Such claims would further damage faith in American democracy – already gutted among Trump supporters. But that would fuel the personal political goals of the ex-president.