Virginia has become a blue state where a Democrat has won every top-score race – president, senator, or governor – over the past decade. But elections there are often close, especially when the national political climate favors Republicans.
Right now, the political climate looks promising again for Republicans. Democrats in Congress are squabbling over the legislative process, rather than accepting the policies proposed by President Biden. Biden was also not very adept at looking at a number of other issues, including Afghanistan, the economy, and the pandemic. His approval rating dropped to about 45 percent.
Against this backdrop, it makes sense that the Virginia governor’s race – one of two in November this year, along with the race in New Jersey – is so close. Terry McAuliffe, a former Democrat, is ahead of Glenn Yangkin, a Republican and former business executive, by just a few points in polls. It seems that many voters are undecided about the choice of one or the other of them.
Obviously, the race matters to Virginia. This will affect government policies on Covid-19, taxes, education, renewables and more. The campaign also offers a preview of some of the main themes that Democrats and Republicans are likely to highlight in next year’s midterm elections.
Today I want to look at the messages that the two candidates are making to the voters. They highlight not only different positions, but different issues as well – a sign that Youngkin and McAuliffe are largely in agreement about which issues are beneficial to a particular political party.
Youngkin’s strategy …
Youngkin has a background as a country club Republican, was a top manager at the investment firm Carlyle Group, and now finances his campaign with his own wealth. He won the Republican nomination thanks to a Trump-friendly campaign that echoes false allegations of electoral fraud. Since then, Youngkin has tried to appeal to Virginia’s hesitant voters by portraying himself as a suburban father and political outsider whose business know-how will help the economy.
This is his positive message. Much of his advertising focuses on a negative message, trying to connect McAuliffe with what Yangkin calls “radical left”.
It’s a strategy that has helped the Republican nominees in Congress win some seats in 2020. Like them, Youngkin focuses on the slogans and positions held by many progressive activists, such as Defund the Police or the Abolish ICE. McAuliffe does not occupy some of these positions, as do most of the elect. Democrats. But at a time when politics has become nationalized, some voters view every election as a referendum across the entire political party – and they judge the Democratic Party based in part on its high-ranking progressive wing.
(Nick Corasaniti of The Times notes that many of Virginia’s race commercials focus on national issues rather than local ones.)
In one of Yangkin’s commercials, uniformed sheriffs criticize McAuliffe for agreeing with the endorsement of the “Extreme Democrats” and praise Yangkin’s plan to reduce crime. In another commercial, a radio clip sounds in which McAuliffe answers the question of whether he supports any restrictions on abortion, saying that he will be a “stone wall” for abortion rights. During the debate, Yangkin described the situation on the US-Mexico border as “absolute chaos.”
His most recent focus has been on a statement made by McAuliffe during one of their debates on school gender policy and sexually explicit books: “I don’t think parents should tell schools what they should teach.” (My colleague Lisa Lehrer takes a deeper look at the role schools play in the campaign.)
Youngkin is essentially trying to resist the awakening, knowing that some progressive Democrats are favoring positions that most Americans do not hold, including cuts in police budgets, relatively open immigration policies, and virtually no restrictions on abortion.
Progressives are quick to say that some of these calls are essentially white identity politics, and this is true. But most of the problems are not just race-related. And accusing American politicians or voters of racism is usually not an effective campaign strategy.
… And McAuliffe’s strategy
McAuliffe’s positive message focused on his track record during his previous term as governor (before he had to retire because Virginia bans governors from serving straight terms). He praises the efficiency of the economy, the low crime rate, and his willingness to work with Republicans. In McAuliffe’s negative message, Yangkin tried to define on two issues: Trump and Covida.
Trump lost 10 points to Virginia Biden, especially in the suburbs of Northern Virginia, where Republicans voted a generation ago. If the governor’s race is a national Republican referendum, McAuliffe is likely to win, and tying Yangkin to Trump is unlikely to be a stretch.
Youngkin won the nomination – the decision was made in a party convention, not a primary – thanks in part to an appeal to Trump supporters. “President Trump represents a large part of why I’m running,” Youngkin said in a May radio interview (a phrase that McAuliffe’s campaign has repeated in advertisements).
Youngkin also played on the skepticism of conservative voters about the Covid vaccines and masks – a view that is not shared by most Virginians. He opposes the introduction of a vaccine for medical workers and teachers, as well as against the introduction of a mask in schools. “Like Donald Trump, Glenn Youngkin refuses to take coronavirus seriously,” says a narrator in a McAuliffe ad.
Youngkin admits that he is vulnerable on these issues. He rarely speaks publicly about Trump anymore, emphasizes that he himself was vaccinated, and encourages others to do so, even if he considers it a personal decision. He even ran a misleading, logically tortured ad claiming McAuliffe was against the vaccine.
If you look at both campaigns together, you can see where each of the two parties believes they are strongest today: crime and divisive cultural debate for Republicans, Trump, and Covid for Democrats.
McAuliffe’s biggest strength remains the state’s democratic leanings. Its current advantage may be small, but it is still an advantage. My colleague Nate Cohn notes that in the last Virginia election, opinion polls underestimated Democratic performance a little. On the other hand, the race is still a few weeks away, and Virginia’s race for governors often favors a candidate who is not a member of the President’s party.
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Reference letter: Enjoy the park bench.
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ART & IDEAS
End of women’s clothing
One of the main trends for the spring 2022 fashion shows that recently wrapped up was not accessory or color. This is how many designers have portrayed men and women in what has long been called “women’s clothing.” Raf Simons, for example, showed him and her skirt suits. At Marni, models wore giant floral sweaters. “By the end of the season, it became so commonplace that I was barely noticed,” writes Vanessa Friedman to the Times. “I just saw the clothes.”
Friedman and fellow Times fashion critic Guy Trebey discussed how this change reflects social shifts, especially among young people, in self-expression and gender identity.
Some shows in recent years have featured clothing that transcends the traditional categories of gender clothing. But “it was something new.” Like… gender agnosticism, ”Friedman said. Everyone liked the bright clothes with light fabrics and rich decor.
The trend is going beyond the catwalks, Trebay added. “Spend at least some time on social media and you will understand how readily guys are now adopting elements of traditionally feminine clothing and grooming,” he said. “It’s not hard to imagine normal men in dresses or something like that in the workplace.” – Sanam Yar, Matinee writer