Virginia, a state that has not elected a Republican governor since 2009, recently broke the streak by electing Glenn Youngkin on Tuesday. For a state that has had Democrat governors for over a decade, what did Glenn Youngkin do differently from his predecessors? What separated Glenn Youngkin was the momentum he built at the end of the campaign; the polling between him and his challenger, Terry McAuliffe, continued to narrow, resulting in them being essentially tied by election day. Monmouth University’s poll had them tied in October with a 3 percent error margin. Once election day came, it was difficult to predict who would win the state.
Youngkin built this momentum in polling through his platform; he opposed the Democrat’s current handling of public education by taking a stance against Critical Race Theory and the way race is thought about in schools. With parents expressing some concern about CRT, this was able to boost Youngkin’s polling. Additionally, Youngkin opposed the rising taxes in Virginia, an issue that affected everyone during the economic recovery following COVID-19. Perhaps the most important factor in Youngkin’s success was his treatment of Donald Trump while on the campaign trail. One of Terry McAuliffe’s strategies in the campaign was to tie Glenn Youngkin to being a Trump supporter. Since they were both in the same party, the logic by McAuliffe was that Virginia was electing another Trump-like politician. With Virginians being more focused on the current issues of schooling and the rising cost of goods, rather than if a candidate came from the same party as the former president, Terry McAuliffe’s campaign did not appeal as much; the voters were focused on who would help and lead them the most.
What does this failure mean for the Democratic party moving forward into the 2022 midterm elections and 2024 general election? It’s fairly obvious: they must change their strategy heading into campaigns. Democrats cannot continue to try and keep Trump in the conversation and link Republicans to him; this strategy isn’t working. To the voters, mentioning Trump in a campaign seems pointless now. He’s gone. Now, the question is what are his replacements doing to improve the situation, rather than continue to blame him. What is most jarring is that, in the span of a year, Virginia went from a state that Joe Biden won by double digits, to a state that effectively voted red. This is very telling as to how the voters feel about Democrat policy platforms; the current education policy and tax structure is hurting candidates at the more local levels, as evidenced by Youngkin’s victory. If more proof is needed that the Democrats must rethink their strategy, even President Biden’s approval rating is taking a nosedive, hovering at about the mid to low 40’s.
For Republicans, if they want the best chances in 2022 and 2024, every candidate must distance themselves from Donald Trump and the MAGA movement. Glenn Youngkin maneuvered himself perfectly during this situation; he neither embraced nor completely rejected this part of the Republican party. So long as Republicans continue to focus on effective policy and candidates that can appeal to the majority of Americans, 2022 and 2024 is a lock. The main challenge for the GOP is the potential partisan division come election time. Some members of the party still swear allegiance to the former president, which may create inner conflict for how the party wants to proceed in the upcoming midterm and general elections.
While it’s only one state’s gubernatorial election, Tuesday night in Virginia showed us that in 2022 and 2024, it’s either party’s victory depending on the direction they take. Both parties can lose if they do not take their distinct lessons from this election.
Thanks for reading,