WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Republican Glenn Youngkin is within striking distance of Democrat Terry McAuliffe in a Virginia governor’s election that will test a strategy of trying to woo suburban moderates without alienating the hard-liners who backed Donald Trump.
If the former private equity executive wins on Tuesday, his approach of rallying parents angry about the way schools have handled COVID-19 and racism in the classroom may serve as a model for Republicans across the country looking to unseat Democrats in next year’s congressional elections.
The party that wins in 2022 will control the U.S. Congress for the last two years of President Joe Biden’s term.
McAuliffe led Youngkin by 5 points in opinion polls in mid-August. But in the final days, the two candidates were locked in a near dead heat, according to polling averages calculated by Real Clear Politics. Over that same period, Biden’s approval rating dropped to just over 40% from about 50%.
Youngkin, 54, has tried to walk a fine line on the false claims by Trump, the former president, that his election defeat in 2020 was the result of fraud, avoiding the topic himself but campaigning with Republican state Senator Amanda Chase who has embraced https://www.reuters.com/world/us/virginia-republican-tries-thread-needle-election-fraud-claims-2021-10-12 them.
He has also backed Republican arguments that school curriculums that discuss racism are promoting “critical race theory https://www.reuters.com/legal/government/what-critical-race-theory-means-why-its-igniting-debate-2021-09-21,” a law school concept that maintains racism is ingrained in U.S. law and institutions and that legacies of slavery and segregation have created an uneven playing field for Black Americans.
Schools say they do not include the theory in elementary and high school curriculums, but are trying to respond to the needs of an increasingly diverse U.S. population.
At the same time, Youngkin needs to avoid turning off Virginia’s moderate voters whose growing numbers – especially in the Washington suburbs – have swung the Southern state Democratic in the past four presidential elections.
A Youngkin victory could provide a template for Republicans walking a fine line in next year’s congressional races.
“Spending a lot of your time trying to cultivate the middle might be wise because it might be that the Trump electorate is going to be fired up no matter what,” said Kyle Kondik, an analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
The contest s important enough for Democrats that Biden and former President Barack Obama visited the state to campaign for McAuliffe, 64, in its final weeks. Virginia has elected just one Republican governor in the past two decades and Democrats currently also control both houses of the state legislature.
If McAuliffe wins, he would retake the seat he held from 2014 through 2018. The state’s laws forbid governors from serving consecutive terms.
SCHOOLS IN FOCUS
Schools have been a major focus for Youngkin, who opposes COVID-19 safety rules requiring that masks be worn in Virginia’s classrooms as well as anti-racism education.
Campaigners have brawled https://www.reuters.com/world/us/partisan-war-over-teaching-history-racism-stokes-tensions-us-schools-2021-06-23 at school board meetings over the anti-racism issue this year, prompting the FBI https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-justice-dept-defends-efforts-step-up-monitoring-threats-school-boards-2021-10-05 to step up its response to threats against board members.
“It forces our children to view everything through a lens of race,” Youngkin said at a campaign stop in Chesterfield, Virginia, on Oct. 8.
A former chief executive of Carlyle Group Inc , Youngkin has also pledged to be tough on criminals, rounding off a basket of issues observers see as tailored to appeal to Trump supporters without turning off suburban moderates.
Youngkin said last month it was “weird and wrong” when people at a rally supporting him pledged allegiance to a flag carried by Trump supporters at the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. Youngkin did not attend the rally, which featured Trump calling in by phone and speaking warmly of the candidate.
Trump also participated in a pro-Youngkin tele-rally on Monday, telling voters that Youngkin would protect suburbs. In his brief call, Trump made no mention of his past warnings that Virginia’s election could be marred by fraud.
McAuliffe has tried to tie Youngkin closely to Trump, running television ads that juxtaposed his opponent’s calls for better election security with images of Trump and the Capitol riot.
“He wants to bring Donald Trump politics to Virginia,” McAuliffe said while debating Youngkin on Sept. 28. “(He) tries to come here to Northern Virginia and pretend: ‘Oh, I’m some moderate.’ He’s not.”
(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Scott Malone, Sonya Hepinstall and Peter Cooney)