Youngkin tapping into parents' anger over schools is likely 2022 GOP preview to win back suburbs

Education emerges among top issues with Youngkin ahead in new polls

‘Fox News Sunday’ host Chris Wallace on the latest developments in the Virginia gubernatorial race and how Youngkin’s lead could predict the results of future elections.

With just a few days to go until Election Day in Virginia in a very close gubernatorial race with national implications, GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin is showcasing that he’ll “always stand up for Virginia’s parents.”

Youngkin’s concerted effort to tap into the anger of many Virginia parents over decisions by their local school boards appears to be a key factor that’s fueled the first-time candidate’s campaign. It’s helped him to overcome a one-time single digit lead by former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a state that President Biden won by 10 points just a year ago.

If Youngkin comes out on top Tuesday and becomes the first Republican to win statewide in Virginia in a dozen years, expect his push to stand up for parents and taking aim at school boards and administrators to be a blueprint for the GOP as the party aims to win back the House of Representatives and Senate majorities in the 2022 midterm elections.

“I think it’s clearly going to be a big issue,” Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), told Fox News this week.

Youngkin, in a campaign ad that’s been in heavy rotation across the commonwealth for a couple of weeks, stresses that “Virginia parents have a right to make decisions on their children’s education. That’s the Virginia I grew up in.”  

And Youngkin, former CEO of a large private equity firm and father of four children, charges that “Terry McAuliffe wants to change that.”

His commercial then uses a viral clip from the second and final debate between the two candidates where McAuliffe, who’s running for his old job, said “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

Public school education has traditionally been a leading issue in gubernatorial contests across the country. But amid a year and a half of frustration over school closures and mask mandates due to the coronavirus pandemic and the push by conservatives nationwide to target race-focused curriculum, including this year’s well publicized battles over critical race theory in Virginia’s Loudon County, Republicans see education and parents’ rights as a winning issue to try and recapture suburban voters who fled the GOP during former President Donald Trump’s White House tenure. 

And that was before McAuliffe’s unforced error at the final debate, which Republicans have repeatedly spotlighted over the ensuing weeks.

Youngkin argued in an interview Monday on Fox News’ “The Faulkner Focus” that “Virginians have a moment to stand up, not just for the future of Virginia’s kids, but for America’s kids. And that’s why this race is so important to everyone right now.”

“The nation is watching because they recognize that when Virginians stand up and take a state that has been blue and elect a Republican governor, it’s going to make a statement that’s going to be heard not just around the country, but around the world,” Youngkin predicted.

Most of the latest polls indicate Youngkin’s pulled even with McAuliffe, who launched his campaign at an event at a public school last December to showcase his education plan. And a Fox News survey conducted earlier this week puts Youngkin by eight points over McAuliffe among likely voters in Virginia.

Most of the surveys point to education and schools surging as a top issue for Virginia voters. And the Fox News poll indicates Youngkin with an eight-point advantage on the issue, after being basically tied with the former governor earlier this month.

Scott, a two-term Florida governor before his 2018 election to the Senate, told Fox News that “the school issue’s going to be a significant issue in ’22.”

Wes Anderson, a veteran Republican consultant and pollster who conducts surveys for the reelection arm of the Senate GOP, said that “there’s sort of a perfect storm brewing when it comes to education.”

Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin gestures as he talks with supporters during a rally in Culpeper, Va., Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. Youngkin faces former Gov. Terry McAuliffe next week. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
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Pointing to the NRSC’s latest suburban battleground survey, Anderson told Fox News that most suburban voters say their public schools are failing them. And he stressed that the widespread shift from in-person education to virtual learning amid the pandemic to prevent the spread of COVID-19, “was a massive eye opening to millions of parents, and they didn’t like what they saw.”

“Looking what’s happening in Virginia, I do suspect that this isn’t going to go away,” he said as he pointed towards next year’s midterms.

Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the powerful conservative and libertarian political advocacy group, told Fox News “what is happening [in] K-12 public schools is frightening and frustrating so many parents.”

But he spotlighted that it’s also resonating with grandparents who are “deeply worried about what’s happening with their grandkids.”

Phillips, a Northern Virginia resident, is mobilizing AFP’s political wing to knock on doors on behalf of Youngkin. “It’s an enormous issue. You can feel it at the doors,” Phillips said.

And he predicted that education and inflation “are the twin issues that will propel Youngkin to victory on Tuesday.”

President Biden, right, reacts after speaking at a rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, in Arlington, Va. McAuliffe will face Republican Glenn Youngkin in the November election. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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Veteran Virginia-based GOP consultant Zack Roday emphasized that “this has been brewing for a very long time. COVID gave it a window. These are parents. There is no Astroturf here.”

Roday told Fox News that “it’s totally a blueprint for 2022, win or loss. … I think Youngkin will prevail, but even if he does not, this is still an incredibly worrying sign.”

Suburban voters helped fuel the blue wave in the 2018 midterm elections, when the Democrats convincingly won back the House of Representatives. And President Biden’s strong showing in the suburbs was a key to his 2020 election victory over Trump.

But Roday said that education “is a suburban winner” for the GOP.

McAuliffe’s campaign has seemingly stepped up its focus on education in recent weeks. In one ad, it links the GOP nominee to Trump, who remains unpopular in Virginia, and Trump’s controversial education secretary during his administration.

“Glen Youngkin would bring Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos’ education polices to Virginia. Youngkin’s plan shifts money from public schools to private schools,” the narrator in a McAuliffe TV ad charges. Younkin’s campaign has received donations from DeVos and her family.

And McAuliffe has pushed back on Youngkin’s emphasis on critical race theory, which has fired up conservative activists across the country.

“It’s not taught here in Virginia,” McAuliffe shot back when asked about critical race theory during a local TV interview. McAuliffe claimed that the conservative furor against critical race theory is “racist” and added that “it’s a dog whistle.”

Former President Barack Obama, campaigning with McAuliffe on Saturday, charged that, “We don’t have time to be wasting on these phony trumped-up culture wars, this fake outrage that right-wing media peddles to juice their ratings.” And the former president accused Youngkin of avoiding “serious problems that affect serious people” and suggested that outrage over the actions of school boards was unjustified.

Longtime Democratic strategist Brad Woodhouse argued that “what parents are really going to be concerned about in this election in Virginia and in the elections next year is who is taking care to make sure their kids are safe from the coronavirus, and who is making sure that their kids are going to school full-time, year round, five days a week. And that contrast could not be clearer. It is the Biden-McAuliffe-Democratic approach to getting rid of this coronavirus, making sure people are safe.”

“That’s going to be the deciding factor in Virginia, and it’s going to be a big deal in 2022,” Woodhouse, a former senior Obama campaign adviser and former Democratic National Committee communications director, noted.

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