Glenn Youngkin’s shocking victory Tuesday in the Virginia Governor’s race offers several lessons for Georgia Republicans hoping to stem the rising Blue Tide next November. To that end, allow me to make the case for several lessons I hope my party learns, and learns quickly.
High turnout doesn’t have to spell doom for Republican candidates.
Democrats believe the higher the turnout, the better it is for their candidates. However, this is often not the case, and was not the case in in Virginia on Tuesday. Turnout in Virginia was just over 55%, the highest Gubernatorial turnout since 1997. Additionally, about 35% of the votes cast were via absentee, mailed in ballots. Nevertheless Youngkin won. Kinda blows up the narrative that elections are irredeemably rigged right?
You don’t need to be Trump-lite to win, in fact, it’s better if Trump stays away and keeps his mouth shut.
Democrat Terry McAuliffe tried with all his might to hang Trump around Youngkin’s neck and it didn’t work. I was in Alexandria, VA on Monday. As you might imagine, TV ads were everywhere. The ads I saw from McAuliffe were all about how Trump endorsed Youngkin therefore he was exactly like Trump, and also that the January 6 Capitol riots were A-OK with Youngkin. On the other hand, the Youngkin ads I saw featured women talking about how they had previously voted for Democrats, but this election they would vote for Youngkin because he talked about issues they cared about, like education.
It’s also important to note that Trump did not go to Virginia to hold rallies. Neither was he wasn’t constantly issuing statements about the VA Governor’s race. Trump was reduced to holding a secret call with some of his Virginia supporters. As Phillip Klein says (behind the paywall):
And though Virginia turned deep blue in the Trump era and voted for Biden by ten points last year, Youngkin won impressively. What’s significant is that he did it not only by winning back suburban voters, but also by smashing Trump’s margin in rural areas that represented Trump’s base. Simply put, without Trump on the ballot or in office, the Republican candidate did significantly better.
Many Georgia Republicans seem to be doing all they can to earn Trump’s endorsement and bask in his shadow. After Tuesday, we see that’s not necessary to win. In fact, threading the needle in the way Youngkin did might be the best way to put together a winning coalition in a purple state.
Covid19 may not be the top issue for voters, but it has impacted the top issues in unique ways.
34% of Virginia voters ranked the economy/jobs as the top issue. The pandemic was second at 17%, while education was third with 14%. Obviously covid19 has impacted the economy and is disrupting education in a major way. Those who listed the economy/jobs and education as their top issues favored Youngkin, giving him a powerful issues advantage over McAuliffe. However, it’s the interaction of covid and these other issues that is driving voters feelings about the others. More specifically, it’s what solutions candidates offer to these covid impacted issues. Offering solutions that meet people where they need was a key factor to Youngkin’s victory. While McAuliffe was attempting to nationalize the election and talking about Trump incessantly, Younking was talking about getting Virginia’s economy back on track, and empowering parents in their child’s education – things Governors can actually do. He wasn’t screaming “socialism” at every turn, and trying to tie McAuliffe to national Democrats. He talked about solutions.
Empowering parents to control their kids’ education is a potent issue – run on it!
While it showed up third in exit polling (see link in previous paragraph), education turned form a traditional Democratic advantage to a Republican strength. Some things about what happened in Virginia are unique to that state. The Loundon County School Board has been at war with their constituents for a while now. However, parents everywhere are less satisfied with their public schools than at any time I can remember. Poll after poll since schools first closed in response to covid, have shown large numbers of parents don’t want their schools to continue doing what they’ve always done. There seems to be no national consensus on what changes should be made, but in many cases in Virginia and in Georgia, the response from school boards seems to be resistance to any change whatsoever, and in some cases even open resentment to parents that show up at school board meetings to ask questions. Before it blew up in their faces, the National School Board Association wrote a letter to AG Merrick Garland urging investigation into parents who may have lost their tempers or issued threats, to see if federal domestic terrorism laws could come into play. Garland happily engaged, further fueling parent’s resolve to see the system change.
There is a golden opportunity sitting there for Georgia Republicans if they have the guts to take advantage of it. It’s not about passing a bill to “ban CRT” and calling it a day. It’s about strengthening the role parents play in their children’s education. Millions of kids have been unenrolled from traditional pubic schools across the country in favor of private schools and charter schools. The number of families homeschooling at least one of their children has more than doubled in Georgia. Parents want change and school boards aren’t giving it to them, but the Governor and the Legislature can. Go talk to Rep. Wes Cantrell about his bill, HB 60. Pass it and watch the voters rejoice, and reward you at the ballot box. Or don’t and risk losing.
Suburban voters aren’t completely lost to the Democrats.
Many suburban Republican abandoned the GOP in the Trump years. Some of them will be lost to the GOP forever. However, lost in the “stolen election” narrative gripping the GOP these days is the fact that tens of thousands of metro-Atlanta Republicans voted for most if not all Republicans…except for Donald Trump. This was true in Virginia and every other state in the Union. Glenn Youngkin won back many of these voters and it was key to his electoral victory Tuesday night. As mentioned above, Youngkin did this while also outperforming Trump in Trump’s strongest areas. Georgia Republicans shouldn’t write off the suburbs. To repeat what I’ve said several times in this article, talk about issues suburban voters care about. It can be done while simultaneously talking about issues rural voters care about too. Glenn Youngkin did this, and so can Georgia Republicans.
Don’t count on Democrats in Georgia to be as dumb and unappealing as Terry McAufliffe.
Terry McAuliffe made many mistakes during this campaign. In addition to trying to run against Trump when Trump was nowhere to be found, he made perhaps the gaffe of the election when he said
“I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decision,” McAuliffe said during the debate. “…I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
Rather than walk it back immediately, McAuliffe doubled down, repeatedly, until it was too late.
In addition, there was the attempted dirty trick which turned into a hilarious self-own by the Lincoln Project.
There are other mistakes Virginia Democrats made, however, Republicans in Georgia can’t count on Georgia Democrats making the same mistakes. Republicans should assume Democrats will learn from these mistakes and run better campaigns in Georgia.
Democrats are hoping 2022 is a year in which they build in the gains they made in Georgia in 2020. For some time now I’ve worried that they’ll be successful in their 2022 efforts. However, the unexpected Republican victories in Virginia show how Republicans everywhere can recover from the 2020 loses, and rebuild a winning coalition. I hope they do it.