KINNETT: What The GOP Must Learn From Virginia

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Tony Kinnett Contributor
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The Virginia gubernatorial race is within reach for the GOP.

With recent polls citing the election as “anyone’s game,” the atmosphere across the commonwealth is intense. Political ads from Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe are best described as a mad scramble to dredge Republican Glenn Youngkin’s past for anything that might stick. Drinking at college parties and the first half of quotes regarding gay marriage are all that the Democratic campaign seems to be able to muster in the face of Youngkin’s onslaught on one issue: education.

After a televised debate in which McAuliffe insisted that parents should be kept out of the classroom, Youngkin’s team has devoted almost all interviews, campaign time and resources to advocacy for parents’ rights, apolitical classrooms and greater educational freedom for Virginians of all backgrounds — and it’s working.

Even some of the most left-leaning polls have shown Youngkin climbing almost ten points in the last month due to his stance on education policy and practice. In the battleground state of Virginia, such a sizable gain in a short amount of time shows Republicans across the United States that education resonates more with conservative and independent voters than almost any other present issue.

According to the latest Emerson poll, 21% of Republicans cited “education” as the most important issue in this gubernatorial race, followed by “jobs” at 15%. It’s no wonder that almost all political ads and media by the Youngkin team have pinned McAuliffe to the wall over this issue — with some ads just consisting of McAuliffe’s audio clips on parents and public schools, critical race theory, and school choice. 

Despite the clear unpopularity of his message, McAuliffe has doubled and tripled down on his statements, siding with the teachers’ unions, legislators and activists. Several McAuliffe ads have attempted to walk back and reverse his previous statements, claiming Republicans took them out of context, but McAuliffe continues to intone in interviews, “You don’t want parents coming in in every different school district saying this is what should be taught here and this is what should be taught there.”

Even former President Barack Obama’s remarks while campaigning for McAuliffe have done nothing to help the Democratic candidate. He brushed off the education issues as a “phony culture war,” backfiring with massive criticism for callousness over rape allegations at Loudoun County schools. 

Tied at 46% with just under one week to go, Glenn Youngkin and Terry McAuliffe have prepared their final strategies to appeal to Virginians in a mad dash for the gubernatorial seat. While McAuliffe’s team is flailing wildly with personal attacks, the Youngkin team has resolved to drive up the center of the court with what has worked so far — the education of Virginia’s children.

This should be an alarm bell of epic proportions to Republicans campaigning for the 2022 midterms and beyond. 

The economy is a powerful issue that impacts every American, but culture issues will drive them to the polls. We all have a common stake in our education system — public and private. A parent’s right to decide what is taught to his or her child is largely popular across the spectrum of voters, cultures and demographics. School choice has over 70% support even among Democratic voters. Critical race theory lessons and pedagogy has caused national outrage from both sides of the political aisle. 

Virginia is not an exception to the national mood. Parent groups have formed in almost every county and community, made up of conservatives, libertarians, populists, independents and even a huge chunk of moderate Democrats. They want a say in their children’s education and they’re tired of being refused a seat at the table.

With Democrats putting forward the same tired answers to education issues that have failed to work in the past, the GOP has the easiest political target in modern history. Youngkin’s team has proved that driving home the most important issue to American families is a resounding success, and it’s time for the rest of the country’s Republicans to follow. 

Anthony Kinnett is a curriculum developer and coordinator in Indianapolis. He is the co-founder and owner of The Chalkboard Review and has written for National Review, The Federalist, The Daily Caller, and the Washington Examiner. @TheTonus