Virginia’s gubernatorial race is a test for Democrats – and Trump’s – resistance
Updated October 28, 2021 at 10:25 a.m.ET
Alan Mullis was so flattered that Republican Glenn Youngkin paid a pit stop in McKenney, Va., A town an hour south of Richmond – or as Mullis puts it, “in the middle of the boondocks” – that he said he had delayed chemotherapy treatment for her leukemia to see Youngkin.
“This is how important it is for me to meet Glenn Youngkin,” said Mullis, 75. “Thank goodness for someone like him running for office.”
Republicans like Mullis are energized by polls showing a neck-and-neck race between Youngkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe a week before election day. Virginia’s off-year election is often seen as an indicator of national mood in a state that President Biden has won by 10 points. The race tightened as Biden’s approval ratings fell to their lowest since taking office.
Mullis, a former police officer, enjoys Youngkin’s support for law enforcement. But for many of the GOP pillars gathered at the Flat Rock Country Store, it’s as much about the vibe as it is about the message. First-time politician Youngkin delivers the energy of a celebrity in a fleece vest and cowboy boots. Supporters sign his tour bus and take photos.
Democrats like Biden say Youngkin is only putting a suburban dad’s slap on the policies of former President Donald Trump. Trump has repeatedly backed the businessman, and in a tweet Wednesday night, a spokesperson said Trump would also campaign for him in Virginia. The Youngkin campaign did not respond to requests for comment, but Youngkin has previously said he has no plans to campaign with the former president.
Youngkin embraced Trump early in his campaign before pivoting to win over more moderate voters. Youngkin has also campaigned alongside supporters like Republican State Senator Amanda Chase, who regularly repeats misinformation about the latest election and now does the same. unfounded claims in this race.
“Extremism can take many forms,” Biden said at a rally for McAuliffe on Tuesday. “It could come from the rage of a crowd pushed to attack the Capitol. It could come from a smile in a fleece vest.”
McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2014 to 2018, brought in a slew of prominent supporters to hammer home the message that a vote for Youngkin is a vote for Trump. Former President Barack Obama, Vice President Harris and even musician Dave Matthews have made recent appearances in the Commonwealth.
Youngkin rejects these comparisons. “If you look at the ballot today, what it says is Glenn Youngkin and Terry McAuliffe,” the former private equity CEO said in applauding his stop at McKenney. (A third-party candidate, activist Princess Blanding, is also on the ballot.)
For Democrats, the stakes are high. Losing Virginia would be a bad sign for next year’s midterms. They haven’t lost a statewide election in the Commonwealth since 2009. McAuliffe says he always knew it would be tight.
“I remind you that for 44 consecutive years the party that wins the White House, the other party wins the Governor’s Mansion,” McAuliffe said in an interview. “I’m the only guy to break it.”
McAuliffe was also a wealthy businessman and early politician when he won the governor’s race in 2013 after an unsuccessful attempt in 2009. He had found success as a well-connected Democratic fundraiser known for his slaps. and his showy gestures, like fighting an alligator. to earn a donation for Jimmy Carter’s re-election campaign in 1980. This time he presents his record, touting the experience he said voters want to see in a pandemic: “I was governor before, I Got out of a horrible financial mess, I created a record 200,000 new jobs and I opened up state and welcoming, ”he says.
Youngkin delivered his closing message to parents. He channeled conservative outrage against critical race theory, which is not taught in Virginia schools. He often repeats the claims in daily appearances on Fox News, although he is much less available to the local press.
This week, Youngkin launched a new ad featuring a Conservative activist who said her son had nightmares after reading Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison Beloved in his AP English course. McAuliffe has twice vetoed the activist’s so-called “beloved bill”. This would have allowed parents to request new readings for their child if the original had included “sexually explicit content”. McAuliffe’s campaign handed out copies of the book at the Biden event on Tuesday and called Youngkin’s emphasis on the book “racist.”
Youngkin denies that he is embarking on culture wars. “It’s no longer Republicans versus Democrats,” he said. “It is Virginia who defends our rights, and in particular the rights of our children.”
For some Democrats, the list of worries includes access to abortion and the pandemic. Two party volunteers, Elizabeth Balaschak and Gene Miles, kill time at their table outside an early polling place as they discuss the impact they could have on the race. Balaschak just moved from Florida to the Richmond area, attracted by the increasingly blue hue of Virginia. Trump’s backlash in those suburbs helped Democrats topple the state legislature. They have passed a host of laws, such as increasing the minimum wage and relaxing abortion rules.
“My concern is if this is starting to head towards Florida – I know a lot of people who have left Florida in the past few years because of the way the state is moving,” Balaschak said.
Balaschak’s volunteer colleague Miles noticed a decline in Democratic enthusiasm this year compared to the Trump era, when participation on local party committees increased. She’s watched Virginia switch between parties since getting involved in 1976, calling the state a “bluish-purple.”
Over 850,000 people have already voted early, and some models show Democrats have an advantage. Both sides say the stakes are higher than ever. Next week’s election will show whether their constituents agree.
IN MARTINEZ, HTE:
Voters will pick a new Virginia governor on Tuesday, but Democrats must play defense in a state President Biden won by 10 points. Polls show that the race between Republican Glenn Youngkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe is at an impasse. Here is Ben Paviour from the VPM member station.
BEN PAVIOR, BYLINE: McKenney, Va. Is an hour south of Richmond, where suburbs give way to farms. Or, as longtime resident Alan Mullis puts it …
ALAN MULLIS: I mean, this place is in the middle of deserts.
PAVIOR: Mullis is flattered that Glenn Youngkin parked his bus outside the Flat Rock Country Store. It’s a food stop at the bend in the road that sells cookies and hams. Mullis, who suffers from leukemia, delayed his chemotherapy treatment to come to this event.
MULLIS: That’s how important it is for me to meet Glenn Youngkin. So thank God for someone like him running for office.
PAVIOR: Mullis likes Youngkin’s support for law enforcement. But for many supporters here, it’s the vibe as much as the message. The first-time politician brings celebrity energy in a fleece vest and cowboy boots. Supporters sign his tour bus and take photos.
GLENN YOUNGKIN: Okay, where’s your camera? Here?
PAVIOR: Youngkin has delivered his closing message to parents. He channeled conservative outrage against critical race theory, which is not taught in Virginia schools.
YOUNGKIN: It’s no longer Republicans versus Democrats. They are Virginians who defend our rights and in particular the rights of our children.
PAVIOR: It’s a message he often sends to Fox News and a change from when he started his campaign, when he focused on the Trumpian theme of electoral integrity. Yet the former CEO of private equity denies that this race is about national politics.
YOUNGKIN: Well, I don’t know about everyone, but if you look at the ballot today, it says Glenn Youngkin and Terry McAuliffe.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Cheers).
YOUNGKIN: That’s what he says.
PAVIOR: Well, there’s a third name – third-party contestant Princess Blanding – but it’s Youngkin and McAuliffe who are raising the big bucks. On Tuesday, McAuliffe campaigned with his old friend President Biden. The president has repeatedly linked Youngkin to Trump, who backed the businessman.
(EXTRACT FROM THE ARCHIVED RECORD)
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Extremism can take many forms, can take the rage of a mob drawn into an assault – pushed to attack the Capitol. He can come in a smile and a fleece vest.
PAVIOR: McAuliffe has brought in a number of heavyweights, ranging from former President Barack Obama …
(EXTRACT FROM THE ARCHIVED RECORD)
BARACK OBAMA: This guy is the Energizer bunny. He is not sleeping. He doesn’t stop.
PAVIOR: … to musician Dave Matthews.
(EXTRACT FROM THE ARCHIVED RECORD)
DAVE MATTHEWS: (Singing) So save me, save me, Mr. Walking Man.
PAVIOR: For Democrats, the stakes are high. Losing Virginia would bode ill for next year’s midterms. They haven’t lost a statewide election since 2009. McAuliffe says he always knew it would be tight.
TERRY MCAULIFFE: I remind you, for 44 consecutive years, the party that wins the White House, the other party wins the governor’s residence.
PAVIOR: The only exception to this rule was McAuliffe, who won a tight governor’s race in Virginia in 2013.
MCAULIFFE: I was governor before – got us out of a horrible financial mess, created a record 200,000 new jobs, made the state open and welcoming.
PAVIOR: McAuliffe’s yard signs are a hot commodity on a blustery day at an early voting location in Henrico County, just outside of Richmond.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I thought you would have left. I said, oh, I missed them.
ELIZABETH BALASCHAK: No, we’re still here.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Oh, thank you.
PAVIOR: Elizabeth Balaschak hosts a Democratic table. She just moved from Florida, drawn to Virginia’s increasingly blue hue. Trump’s backlash in those Richmond suburbs helped Democrats topple the state legislature. They passed a series of laws, such as increasing the minimum wage.
BALASCHAK: My concern is that if he starts heading for Florida, I know a lot of people who have left Florida in the past few years because of the way the state is going.
PAVIOR: Now the Democrats in Virginia must defend not only the governor’s seat, but their hold over the House of Delegates as well.
For NPR News, I’m Ben Paviour in Richmond.
(EXCERPT FROM MATTHER HALSALL “THE END OF DUKKHA”) Transcription provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.