In the closing hours of Monday’s campaign to become Virginia’s next governor, it was Glenn Youngkin who offered an optimistic vision for the future, while Terry McAuliffe delivered harsh warnings about the ghosts of the past.
As the two men toured the state, the contrast in tone demonstrated their shifting fortunes in the highest-profile race on the ballot Tuesday. McAuliffe, a longtime member of the Democratic establishment, was fighting to prevent President Biden’s unpopularity, the stalemate in Washington, and Youngkin’s effective weaponry of racial problems in public schools from dooming his run for a second term as governor. .
Youngkin, for his part, aimed to redefine how Republicans could win the election with former President Donald J. Trump out of the White House. He has accepted Trump’s support and refrained from criticizing him, but Youngkin has prevented Trump from visiting Virginia and never invokes his name during his speeches. A former private equity executive, Youngkin hugged Trump during this year’s primary race, but spent the months since winning the Republican nomination keeping a rhetorical distance.
In the Richmond area on Monday, Youngkin said he would lead a series of Republican victories across the state that would define a new era for the party, one in which he has focused on giving parents greater control over the plan. studies in public schools. particularly in how children are educated about racism.
“We will not teach our children to see everything through the lens of race,” Youngkin told supporters at a noon rally in an airplane hangar. “So on day 1, I will ban critical race theory from Virginia schools.”
That theory, a graduate school framework that holds that historical patterns of racism are ingrained in law and other modern institutions, is not taught in Virginia public schools. But conservatives have turned it into a flash point in key suburban areas like Loudoun County, outside of Washington.
Previously, in Roanoke, the largest city in the southwestern corner of the state and a Republican stronghold, Youngkin promised voters that party renewal was near.
“We are going to have a new generation of Republicans who will come in and define a new way forward,” he said. he told his followers at a morning rally at the airport.
While Youngkin never mentioned Trump in his 22-minute speech, he touched on several of the former president’s topics and deployed some of his catchphrases.
“I’m so tired of Virginia losing,” Youngkin said. “I want Virginia to start winning again.”
Trump, who managed to speak to his own Virginia supporters on Youngkin’s behalf during a teleconference Monday night, appeared to be looking to take credit if Youngkin emerged victorious.
The media, Trump said in a statement earlier in the day, were “trying to create the impression that Glenn Youngkin and I disagree and don’t like each other.” He said this was not true: “We get along very well together and strongly believe in many of the same policies.”
Still, Youngkin let it be known that he was too busy campaigning to attend Trump’s call.
McAuliffe, crossing the state on another plane, hit the Trump-Youngkin connection, as he has for weeks. He warned that a Youngkin victory would pave the way for Trump to attempt his own political restoration, and urged Virginians not to let the two exploit the state in such a way.
“We don’t want a Trump hopeful, someone who has been endorsed by Donald Trump 10 times,” McAuliffe told reporters after a morning stop in Roanoke. “Donald Trump wants to win tomorrow so that the next day he declares himself for president of the United States. He wants to use Virginia as a launch pad for his presidential. “
McAuliffe’s strategy of tying Youngkin to Trump hasn’t stopped his poll leadership from evaporating. A Washington Post poll Posted over the weekend revealed that Virginia’s race is in a tie, a tough fall for a Democratic Party that hasn’t lost a state race in Virginia since 2009. Biden won the state by 10 percentage points last year.
Officials on both sides of the gubernatorial race are hampered by a lack of information on what Tuesday’s electorate will look like. It is the first state contest under voting rules set in 2020, which created 45 days of no-excuse early voting statewide.
More than 1.1 million votes have already been cast, according to data from the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project, down from the 2.8 million people who voted before Election Day in 2020, but above the 195,000 early votes in the 2017 gubernatorial election.
Tom Bonier, CEO of TargetSmart, a Democratic data firm, wrote on sunday that black turnout in early voting was slightly below 2020 levels, while the percentage of young voters was “far behind previous benchmarks.”
The proportion of rural voters who voted early rose dramatically, and Republican voters seemed much more excited about the election than Democrats, he said.
That could add to the drama surrounding who shows up at the polls on Tuesday. “Election day will be decisive,” Bonier said.
On the ground, officials working on voter turnout for the Democratic ballot said they were find much less engaged black voters in this year’s election than in the races during Trump’s presidency, when the president’s constant comments on Twitter provided a steady supply of outrage.
“Because Trump is not in office, there is no longer a constant barrage of bullshit that you need to pay attention to,” said Angela Angel, senior advisor for Black Lives Matter PAC, who was investigating black neighborhoods in Virginia Beach on Monday. . “Good or bad, it led to politics.”
McAuliffe has sought to engage black voters in the campaign through a series of high-profile black surrogates. He reminded reporters Monday that he had appeared at rallies with former President Barack Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris and Stacey Abrams, the voting rights activist and former Democratic lawmaker from Georgia.
But Angel said voters were expressing “some disappointment in the current administration” for failing to enact many of the important changes that Biden had promised last year when he sought to remove Trump from office.
Even McAuliffe lamented the slowness with which Congressional Democrats had been negotiating his long-awaited legislation on infrastructure and social policy.
“I hope they pass an infrastructure bill tomorrow,” McAuliffe said in Roanoke Monday morning. “Do your work. Pass the bill. It will not have any relevance for our election, but it will have relevance when I am governor. “