Matt Gorman: Virginia governor's race hangs on these three issues

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Glenn Youngkin sits down with Lawrence Jones to discuss his campaign efforts in Virginia

Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin discusses his plans for Virginia ahead of gubernatorial election, says ‘I am for parents and students’

Here we go again. It’s hard to believe it’s almost been a year since the 2020 presidential election. And in just a few short weeks, the focus will already turn to the 2022 midterms, where President Joe Biden’s agenda will hang in the balance.

History is not on the Democrats’ side next year though. In past midterm elections, the president’s party lost an average of 26 House seats and 4 Senate seats respectively.

Republicans are favored to continue that trend and overcome a slim Democratic majority to take back the House. The balance of power in the Senate, however, will hinge on races in states like New Hampshire, Nevada, and Georgia.

But before we worry about all that. Let’s turn our focus to the Commonwealth of Virginia. We’re a week out from Election Day in the Old Dominion. Democrat and former Governor Terry McAuliffe is facing Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin in the race to become the state’s next governor.

Supporters of Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) attend a campaign event in McLean, Virginia, U.S., July 14, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Virginia has unquestionably transformed into a reliably blue state over the last decade thanks to explosive growth in the Northern Virginia suburbs. Yet in spite of the state’s recent Democratic bent, Youngkin has run a strong campaign and both parties concede this race is extremely close.

No matter what the results are next week, people will try and extrapolate what it’ll mean for next year’s midterms. It will mostly just be guesswork.

However, even before we see who wins, we do know what issues are dominating the race and how those same issues could play out next year. Upon examination of what’s on voters’ minds, it appears national Republicans would do well to take notes on Youngkin’s campaign.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden participates in a campaign event with candidate for Governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe, at Lubber Run Park in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., July 23, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo

Let’s take each issue one by one:

EDUCATION

If you’re following the Virginia race you’ve heard a lot about education and you’re going to hear even more in this last week. It’s quickly becoming the defining issue of the race.

Whether it’s school choice, school safety, or critical race theory, Youngkin has gone on offense and it appears to be working. A recent Monmouth poll shows he’s closing the gap among women and suburban voters, as well as taking the lead among independents.

McAuliffe has made his share of missteps too. He went into damage control after he said in a recent debate that parents shouldn’t have a role in what their kids are taught in schools. Axios reports McAuliffe is shifting his closing message to education, effectively conceding he has a serious vulnerability on the issue and neutralizing it is vital to his hopes.

It’s no secret Republicans have had issues appealing to suburban voters the last few years. To win in places like Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada, we need to cut into Democrats’ recent advantage. Youngkin’s emphasis on empowering parents and using education to put McAuliffe on the defensive is a template Republicans should follow.

INFLATION AND THE PRICE OF EVERYDAY GOODS

You don’t need to be a Virginian to see higher prices on everyday goods. The cost of milk has already risen about 30 cents from last year. Gas prices are the highest they’ve been in seven years, with every state’s average more than three dollars per gallon.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how inflation has wreaked havoc on our economy. A recent national poll shows inflation as the number one issue on voters’ minds.

Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin speaks during a campaign event in McLean, Virginia, U.S., July 14, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Youngkin has found a way to effectively localize this issue and make it central to his campaign. He advocates for suspending the state’s gas tax and vows to repeal its tax on groceries. All this has knocked McAuliffe back on his heels. No candidate wants to be defined as the one defending middle-class taxes. And that’s exactly what McAuliffe has suddenly become.

The policies Youngkin proposes add up and can provide substantial relief for families. At the very least, it shows voters he’s proactively trying to ease their pain.

Education, inflation, and crime are what you should keep an eye on–both next week and next year.

Contrast that with President Biden. He’s had no answers on how to turn the tide of rising prices. Instead of leading and finding ways to fix it, Biden has become a bystander—effectively turning the Oval Office into the world’s nicest observation deck.

If we’re still talking about this issue next fall, his party is in for a world of hurt. But don’t just take my word for it. Democrats have already raised the alarm on what it could mean for them next year. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) told House Democrats over the summer they’d lose the majority if the election were held today, with inflation as a big reason why.

CRIME

And finally, keep an eye on public safety and crime. It’s been a hot-button issue in Virginia. Youngkin has attacked the former governor relentlessly, focusing on two key points: McAuliffe accepting the endorsement of a liberal group which supports defunding the police and the 43 percent rise in the murder rate during his tenure as governor.

National Democrats see the risk in this line of attack taking hold. Last year, Virginia Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger complained about her party’s emphasis on defunding the police during a post-election conference call. Going into 2022, Democrats have grumbled about how Republicans have already seemed to define them on the issue.  

But for all their consternation, the very people advising House candidates and running their campaigns openly support it. Fox News reported both the DCCC’s chief of staff and senior advisor advocated for defunding the police and even disbanding the military. If these are the people in charge of keeping the Democratic House majority, Republicans are in pretty good shape.  

In short, education, inflation, and crime are what you should keep an eye on–both next week and next year.

But more importantly, look at what these three things have in common. They’re all “kitchen table issues.” They affect voters every single day. Whether Youngkin wins or loses next Tuesday, Republicans should follow his example next year: run on real issues that appeal to a broad swath of voters—particularly those in the suburbs who’ve drifted away from the party of late.

If Republicans can copy that game plan and do it as successfully as Glenn Youngkin has, then 2022 can’t come soon enough. 

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