“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
That statement may come to live in infamy alongside the likes of “read my lips, no new taxes,” or maybe “depends what the meaning of is, is,” or even “I am not a crook” if it helps snatch defeat from the jaws of victory for the man who said it. But particularly shocking, it was uttered on the most sizzling hot-button issue of the day by a political veteran who should know better, especially if he wants to become the once-and-future governor of Virginia.
And while that shockingly frank statement, spawning an entire oppositional ad campaign, has parents up in arms, the offending career politician didn’t help his standing within his party, either, when he told a virtual rally recently, “We are facing a lot of headwinds from Washington … As you know, the president is unpopular today, unfortunately, here in Virginia.”
Terry McAuliffe, seeking a second go-round as governor of Virginia – his first term ended in 2018 and the state does not allow for consecutive terms – probably thought he’d have a glide path in this high-profile race that has attracted substantial national attention in a thin political year. After all, Joe Biden had won Virginia by ten points, Donald Trump was more unpopular in the Old Dominion than any other southern state, Republicans have failed repeatedly in statewide elections for a decade, and they nominated a political neophyte to take on the wily Clinton consigliere.
In fact, McAuliffe was an apt nominee for Democrats, who pulled the same bait-and-switch act in Virginia this year as they did in the presidential race last year. They talked a big game on progressive issues and attracted a bevy of upstart progressive candidates to their primary, just as the party did in their race for the White House in 2020. And just like one year ago, they overwhelmingly nominated an aging white guy attached to the past.
After taking a solid if not commanding lead early in the race, likely based on name recognition and his relative popularity during his time as governor, the longtime Clinton crony has seen his previously unknown opponent, businessman Glenn Youngkin, pull into a virtual tie. While this is at some level understandable given that the president is sinking badly in the polls, McAuliffe’s uncharacteristically self-immolating remarks have doubtless contributed to the panic now being felt in Democratic circles. This race has been widely viewed as theirs to lose – and, in the absence of any other competitive races of national significance, a bellwether for 2022’s midterm elections. A loss would further embarrass a party trying to patch holes in the sinking ship at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
But the downdraft from D.C. is starting to be felt across the neighboring commonwealth as it is nationally. A shock poll in late September by Virginia-based Mary Washington University had Youngkin leading by five points – outside the margin of error. More recent surveys have McAuliffe on top, but his lead, once in the five- to seven-point range, has shrunk to within the margin of error, capped by a recent poll from Emerson College showing McAuliffe clinging to a one-point advantage.
Another sign of increasing desperation is fresh attempts by Democrats to reinstate the dream election laws of 2020 that carried them to victory. In Fairfax County, they have tried to resuscitate the COVID-driven waiver on the signature requirement for absentee ballots, thus removing a full layer of protection against voter fraud. While such a change to the law is perhaps defensible in the heat of a pandemic, it becomes pure politics in the aftermath.
As the eyes of the nation increasingly turn to the Old Dominion in search of answers on what to expect in the coming midterms, it can at least be said of McAuliffe that he has twice told the unvarnished truth. He unexpectedly admitted to exactly how he – and an increasing number of Democrats – really feel about the role of parents in their children’s education. And he stipulated something that might seem obvious to the common man but is rarely acknowledged by partisan career politicians: His president has become a major drag on his own party.
~ Read more from Tim Donner.