Virginia governor’s race, GOP lab for winning with and without Trump

By Beatriz Pascual Macias

Manassas, Virginia, Nov 1 (EFE).- The state of Virginia, which is holding its gubernatorial election on Nov. 2, has become a laboratory for a Republican Party eager to find a formula that will help them mobilize former President Donald Trump’s base without scaring off middle class suburban voters.

Both Republicans and Democrats are viewing these elections as a first – albeit local – measure of how things stand in the run-up to the 2022 nationwide mid-term elections, in which the Democrats supporting President Joe Biden could lost their slim majority in both houses of Congress and have to deal with two very difficult subsequent years of GOP congressional control until the 2024 presidential vote.

For the Republicans, finding the balance between operating in Trump’s shadow or not is difficult, although the GOP candidate for the Virginia governorship, Glenn Youngkin, seems to have figured out how to do so, as shown in recent voter surveys, which put him just a point behind his Democratic rival, Terry McAuliffe, who already served as the state’s governor from 2014-2018.

In recent hours, Youngkin has gone from one election event to another shaking hands with everyone – Trump supporters wearing MAGA hats and jackets with rifle logos and people who say they are indignant over school closures during the pandemic.

One woman who expressed her outrage over the school closures was Julie Byers and she came with one of her six children to a Youngkin rally in Manassas, a city just 50 kilometers (32 miles) from Washington and a more conservative locale than the rest of northern Virginia.

She told EFE that she voted for Trump and liked what he achieved as president, but added that she found his personality difficult and divisive. She added that Youngkin is the “best of both worlds,” saying that he has good ideas and a good personality.

She also said that she thought Youngkin would unite people, not divide them and that is what she likes about him, calling him charismatic and genuine.

The 54-year-old Youngkin has forged an image of himself as a “self-made man” who went from washing dishes in Virginia Beach to amassing a $400 million fortune with the Carlyle investment firm, becoming a significant Republican Party donor along the way.

Despite the parallels with Trump, given that the ex-president was also a fabulously wealthy businessman without any political experience when he ran for office, Youngkin has a very different style from the mogul. He speaks in complete sentences and avoids polemics, although he makes eyes at the ultrarightist wing of the GOP by defending the false narrative – otherwise known as the “Big Lie” – that the Democrats “stole” the 2020 presidential election from Trump.

Every now and then, he also comes out with some conspiracy theory or another but his biggest weapon is the schools, an issue that up to now had little importance for Republicans but which could be the recipe that will unite the diehard Trumpists and the moderate voters in the suburbs.

Youngkin has shown he knows how to take advantage of the rage aroused among many by closing down schools during the pandemic and has accused McAuliffe of wanting to exclude parents from decisions about their children’s education.

In addition, he alleges that the Democrats are trying to indoctrinate kids with so-called “critical race theory,” which holds that the US past history with slavery is the origin of a systemic racism that still permeates its laws and institutions.

Although that theory is not part of the curriculum in Virginia schools, Youngkin supporter Jeff Fuller says that it’s a significant threat and equates it with “communism.”

Fuller, wearing a cap with a US flag and walking with a lip because he said he’s still carrying “lead” in his body from his military service in the Vietnam War, told EFE that his main motivation in this election is to help prevent Virginia from sliding over the cliff into socialism.

One of the signs that was most in evidence at the Manassas rally was “Parents for Youngkin,” but there were also others like “Police for Youngkin,” “Farmers for Youngkin” and “Latinos for Youngkin.”

All those signs backing the Republican gubernatorial candidate can also be seen posted in the yards of single family homes in the suburbs of Arlington, a city adjacent to Washington and a Democratic bastion in Virginia.

In that northern part of the state, however, there are also many publicly displayed messages supporting McAuliffe, a 64-year-old centrist Democrat who was close to President Bill Clinton and who, for decades, has been part of the party apparatus.

Wendy Shamblain, 55, voted for him and said she fears that if the Republicans win there will be backsliding on the rights of women and transgender citizens. She told EFE that she’s afraid that if the Democrats lose the election, certain groups will also lose all that they’ve gained.

Just like Shamblain, about a million people have voted early in Virginia so far, a much higher figure than the 200,000 who did so in 2017.

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