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Jessica Tarlov: Virginia's lessons for Democrats – 3 issues to watch in Youngkin-McAuliffe race

Jessica Tarlov: Virginia's lessons for Democrats – 3 issues to watch in Youngkin-McAuliffe race

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I’ll head to the polls Tuesday morning to send Eric Adams to Gracie Mansion as the next mayor of New York City and feel absolutely no stress. Not only do I personally like Adams and voted for him as my top choice in the primary, but the race won’t even be close.  

Having grown up in New York City and now living here as an adult, I’ve never known the type of voting pressure that folks in Virginia are feeling right now. As a pretty reliably blue state in recent years, Virginia’s gubernatorial race wasn’t meant to be all that interesting. But now, judging by polling, Virginia Democrats find themselves in a race that is a statistical tie with a very real chance of losing control of the governor’s mansion to Republican Glenn Youngkin.  

Two major trends have been dominating conversations about race:  

NEWTGINGRICH: YOUNGKIN, MCAULIFFE, AND A TALE ABOUT TWO DIAMETRICALLY AOPPOSED STATEGIES

First is the mass exodus in support from Independents to Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Youngkin is now supported by 55%, which gives him a 17 point advantage in Echelon Insights surveys. Any winning Democratic coalition in Virginia would be incomplete without the support of independents.  

Parents with children in school have seen a significant shift from McAuliffe towards Youngkin. According to the Washington Post poll Youngkin has a 15 point advantage over McAuliffe among parents with K-12th-graders. Education voters, however, favor Youngkin nine points. Just a month earlier, they preferred McAuliffe 33 to Youngkin.  

It’s not a very good image for the Democrat. 

The conundrum for Democrats isn’t one of Black voters switching parties and supporting Republicans, but whether Blacks will turn out in the numbers needed to win big elections.  

GOTV events are in full swing with high-profile Democrats continuing to pour into the state to help McAuliffe’s campaign. This race is a key indicator of the political climate heading into 2022’s midterms, regardless how we feel about it.  

There are three big issues I’m focusing on in Virginia as we look ahead: education, the Black vote, and former President Trump. 

Video

The issue of education is a big one in Virginia, as I explained above. McAuliffe’s comment that parents shouldn’t be telling schools what to teach has clearly had an outsized effect on the race. The question then becomes whether this is a trendline that we’ll see pop up in other races. There are concerns about kids returning to school and the effects of vaccine mandates, masking, quality control, zoom school’s effectiveness, mental health, and other factors.  

Are there any chances that an issue, which is usually won by Democrats and has been strongly supportive of teacher unions as well as public school curriculums in general, might lose ground to Republicans across the country? If there was a time for it to happen, that time is now as COVID-19 continues to ravage communities and parents voice upset over the content of their kids’ education.  

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Despite Republicans winning an additional percentage or two in recent elections, Black Americans are still reliable Democratic voters. The conundrum for Democrats isn’t one of Black voters switching parties and supporting Republicans, but whether Blacks will turn out in the numbers needed to win big elections.  

Princeton University scientist says education key issue in Virginia governor race Video

McAuliffe’s campaign has brought big-name Black politicians to rally support. He has shared the stage with former president Barack Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris, Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison, House Whip Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, and Stacey Abrams among others. While they didn’t all deliver the same speech by any means, the message was clear: Black Americans decide elections and they must turn out. It will also serve as a major focal point for the midterms.  

What do you think of Trump’s factor? Though the former president endorsed Youngkin, the candidate has made it a priority to avoid nationalizing the race and aligning himself too closely with the controversial former president. At the same time, Democrats have been working overtime to tie Youngkin to Trump as they know how much of a motivator Trump’s name is for Democrats to get to the polls.  

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Youngkin’s success will force Democrats to reconsider their strategy for making local races nationwide and invoking Trump whenever possible. The possibility of Youngkin’s name not being included on the electoral ballot is less likely, particularly with a GOP candidate that is more moderate and temperamentally suited for office. 

We’ll know the outcome of the race very soon and can begin dissecting each and every angle. There will be many unexpected turns and twists in exit poll data. But these three issues are electoral factors that Democrats are watching closely as we consider our future in Virginia – and beyond.  

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