Youngkin’s school warnings intensify GOP’s suburban push
ASHLAND, Va. (AP) – Glenn Youngkin wants voters in Virginia to hear an urgent message: Your children are in danger.
In a speech last week in a suburb of Northern Virginia, the Republican gubernatorial candidate highlighted the murky case of a student who allegedly committed sex crimes at two area schools. He said the incidents, which sparked outrage in the community, are the result of the failure of Democratic leadership.
“What other tragedy awaits the children of Virginia?” asked an atypical, sinister-faced Youngkin from the podium, flanked by a group of parents and schoolchildren.
On the eve of the Nov. 2 election, Youngkin’s grim post represents a new front in his months-long campaign to mend the Republican Party’s position in the suburbs, where graduating moms and dads have turned forcefully against the GOP. by Donald Trump.
Shunning Trump and his divisive rhetoric for much of the year, Youngkin adopted a suburban strategy that instead emphasizes an accessible image and “kitchen table” issues like taxes, public safety and education. He also tried to tie his education platform to the frustrations of activist groups in Virginia – many of whom are led by officials with former ties to the Trump administration, the Republican Party, or both – already upset. by the school pandemic restrictions and transgender policies, as well as the classroom programs they see as too liberal and anti-American.
Youngkin’s final days focus on sexual predators in schools, a barely widespread problem, will test the limits of his suburban outreach and provide lessons for Republicans aiming to regain control of Congress next year.
In competitive suburban neighborhoods from California to Connecticut, Republicans are heading into the midterms in search of a post-Trump playbook to rebalance the political landscape. If Youngkin wins, many GOP candidates will likely adopt his rhetoric. A loss, however, could signal that the hardline approach has limited appeal beyond the Republican base.
Less than two weeks before election day in Virginia, there are signs that Youngkin’s strategy is working.
Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s campaign privately concedes the race is a failure, despite built-in advantages in a state where President Joe Biden won 10 percentage points last fall. A new poll from Monmouth University, which has the race tied, suggested Youngkin could gain some support among those deciding between the two candidates in the final months of the campaign, including in the northern suburbs of Virginia.
Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Independent Polling Institute, also cited a shift in key voter issues away from the pandemic, which tends to favor Democrats, and toward the economy and the education, where politics are more murky.
McAuliffe’s struggle to maintain his party’s advantage with suburban voters focused on the Youngkin-Trump connection, which was twice rejected by voters in Virginia. McAuliffe posted an ad this week in which his opponent and Trump use almost identical language. While Trump has endorsed Youngkin and the two share positions on several policies, the Republican of Virginia has spent millions of dollars of his personal fortune on television commercials defining himself as a moderate Republican businessman.
Youngkin chief strategist Jeff Roe said the campaign has targeted an universe of around 15% of the electorate that he calls “the dads of the peloton and the moms of football,” a group of convincing independents. who tend to be college graduates, white and suburban. To reach them, Youngkin deployed a cohesive advertising strategy and campaign events focused on local issues.
McAuliffe “is campaigning on issues that nobody talks about and fighting against someone who is not on the ballot. No wonder he’s not doing well, ”Roe said. “We tell people about the issues they care about and we fight Terry McAuliffe.”
Some Democrats are worried.
In the Richmond suburb, Alsuin Preis, a member of the Henrico County Democrats’ executive committee, said she was skeptical that Youngkin would influence many female Democrats, but feared he would appeal to anti-Trump Republicans. She noticed a wave of Youngkin road signs in her neighborhood, a swing neighborhood that turned blue after Trump was elected.
“Glenn Younkin gave them permission to be ashamed of themselves,” she said of her Republican neighbors.
Two decades ago, George W. Bush focused on education to present himself as a “compassionate conservative.” Youngkin tries to do the same by talking about his own plans to increase teachers’ salaries and increase spending on education. Both are McAuliffe’s priorities as well.
But two recent cases of alleged sexual assault in high school allowed Youngkin to link his educational platform to the prospect of violence in schools.
The first happened in the washroom at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, Loudoun County, N. Virginia on May 28. The victim’s father was arrested at a school board meeting the following month, as officials were discussing toilet policies at transgender schools, after an altercation with another parent. On October 6, another incident occurred at Broad Run High School, about 3 miles from Stone Bridge.
The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that a 14-year-old man was arrested in connection with the May 28 assault and charged with two counts of forced sodomy. Police have since announced that the same suspect has been charged with the sexual assault and kidnapping of another student in the October 6 incident.
In response to parents’ outrage that the same student was allowed to commit two assaults at different schools, Loudoun County Public School Superintendent Scott Ziegler apologized last week and said officials school would review disciplinary proceedings.
Youngkin’s decision to deal with the incidents in the final days of his campaign comes with risks. State Police confirmed on Friday that they were investigating multiple threats against a county prosecutor, who criticized Youngkin in a television interview for “setting the community on fire”.
Still, the cases complemented what Youngkin’s campaign already saw as an issue of strength during the home stretch of the race: standing up for parents.
“It’s less a question of ideology. Now we are talking about the role of parents as it influences the safety of their child, ”said Alleigh Marré, a Virginia mother and former Trump administration staff member who heads an organization called the Free to Learn Coalition. “I think most parents, when they look at what happened in Loudoun, they see a father defending his daughter who was a survivor of sexual assault and yet the repercussions fell on the father.”
Earlier this year, his group spent a lot of money on ads criticizing school districts in Virginia, New York and Arizona for politicizing classrooms. This week, he announced a purchase of more than $ 1 million on digital and television advertising throughout the state of Virginia in an attempt to expose “school policies that would silence parents,” while stressing the McAuliffe’s debate comment that parents shouldn’t tell schools what books to teach.
On the ground in Northern Virginia, Briana Howard, a 32-year-old mom of a second-grader at Fairfax County schools, said her family had struggled with the closings of classrooms at the Fairfax County. last year. She supported them at first, but felt they lasted far too long.
Howard said she generally votes for Democrats and for Biden last year, but supports Youngkin because of her stance on education and her frustration with Democrats, who she says are appealing to teachers’ unions rather than families.
She attended one of Youngkin’s recent gatherings and said she was “very moved” to learn that he was taking the alleged sexual assault seriously and calling for an investigation.
“He was very passionate about what he was saying and really made me feel like he was going to listen to parents and he was going to listen to our voices. And he will not only listen to us, but change what is happening, ”she said.