AMAC Exclusive by Shane Harris
Terry McAuliffe is slipping in Virginia. Warning signs first appeared several weeks ago as McAuliffe’s once healthy polling lead over Republican Glenn Youngkin in the Virginia Governor’s race evaporated. Now, as Democrats’ popularity continues to sink throughout the country, Youngkin is surging and has firmly taken the momentum in the race. But while Youngkin has done an impressive job of highlighting McAuliffe’s flaws, the most immediately apparent problem plaguing McAuliffe has been McAuliffe himself, and the most damaging blows against him have been self-inflicted.
While McAuliffe held a comfortable 6.6-point lead over Youngkin as late as August according to the RealClearPolitics polling average, that advantage has now shrunk to just 2.2 points, well within the margin of error for most polls. An Emerson poll from earlier this month put McAuliffe’s advantage at just one point, while some polls have even showed Youngkin in the lead. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report recently shifted the race from “lean Democratic” to “toss-up.”
Perhaps the biggest issue that has dogged McAuliffe throughout his campaign has been an inability to effectively and consistently address the issue of radical ideologies being taught in schools. For example, after first claiming that CRT was a “right-wing conspiracy,” McAuliffe then pivoted to asserting that it did exist, but that it was not taught in schools, and that it was nevertheless a “racist dog whistle” – despite the fact that large majorities of parents reject CRT and its associated ideologies. When pressed, however, McAuliffe was unable to define what CRT is, leading many to question how he could then know if it was or was not being taught in schools. Then, just yesterday, newly unearthed documents revealed that the McAuliffe’s own Secretary of Education explicitly pushed schools to teach CRT during McAuliffe’s previous term as governor.
Perhaps McAuliffe’s worst blunder came on the debate stage late last month, as Youngkin grilled him over his education policy. During the exchange, McAuliffe said that “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” The comment led to immediate backlash from Virginia parents, who rightly pointed out that as both parents of their children and taxpayers who fund the school system, they certainly should have a say in what their kids are taught in school.
Beyond his failure to stand up for parents of school children, McAuliffe has also embraced several radical Democrat policy positions that are profoundly unpopular in Virginia. He made national headlines last month when a Virginia Sheriff confronted him about his ties to groups associated with the “Defund the Police” movement. McAuliffe refused to explicitly disavow the movement, angering many law enforcement officials throughout the state.
McAuliffe has also joined in the push by national Democrats to override local zoning decisions and abolish zoning protections for single family neighborhoods. Incredibly, McAuliffe wants to pave the way for big banks and well-connected real estate developers to replace single-family homes with high-density apartment units in residential neighborhoods.
The housing plan on McAuliffe’s campaign website spells it out clearly enough. Under the heading “Neighbors for More Neighbors: Bold Changes to Overcome Local Impediments and Create More Housing”, McAuliffe promises to “create a task force that is charged with identifying zoning, regulatory and permitting issues that impede a locality’s ability to promote affordable housing. This task force will create a framework to break down barriers [and] improve zoning.”
To give him credit, the “bold changes” that McAuliffe is describing are indeed breathtakingly bold: abolish single family zoning. Moreover, the breaking down of barriers that McAuliffe has in mind includes breaking down the “barrier” that is the attachment that middle suburban homeowners have for their single-family neighborhoods. For anyone who does not believe this is even an issue, they should understand that the abolition of single-family zoning is mainstream thinking in today’s Democrat party. Last month, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation to abolish single family zoning in all of California. Oregon abolished single family zoning in 2019, and Minneapolis was the first major metropolitan area to abolish single family zoning, also in 2019. The New York Times Editorial Board has called the push to abolition single family zoning “simple and brilliant.” Incidentally, the slogan on McAuliffe’s website “Neighbors for More Neighbors” is word-for-word the same slogan employed by the Minnesota coalition that successfully campaigned to abolish single family zoning in Minneapolis. That organization’s website is still live.
Over the past week, conservatives have opened up a new front in the opposition to the plan, highlighting McAuliffe’s radical zoning policies in a brutal two-minute ad across sections of Northern Virginia in response to McAuliffe’s plan, urging viewers to “ask Terry McAuliffe why he wants to use Virginia to pay off his extremist allies, destroy suburban neighborhoods, and destroy the American dream of a single-family home.”
McAuliffe’s campaign strategy has also bewildered many political observers. One longtime Republican consultant who has followed the race closely said that “their media strategy has been all over the place,” noting that “there doesn’t seem to be a consistent message from week to week. They’re panicking.”
Part of the reason for that is likely that they have a tough opponent in Youngkin. As a first-time candidate, Youngkin has no political record for McAuliffe to criticize. Youngkin’s personal story is also inspiring, rising from a modest background to become co-CEO of The Carlyle Group, one of the largest private equity firms in the world.
The McAuliffe campaign has therefore attempted to focus on Youngkin’s time with the firm in most of their attacks, portraying Youngkin as a cutthroat businessman who only cares about profit. However, their evidence has been tenuous at best, and at times bizarre. In one case, McAuliffe’s campaign accused Youngkin of playing a role in the controversial sale of the master rights to music superstar Taylor Swift’s first six albums, apparently in the hope of garnering the support of Swift fans, or “Swifties.” While The Carlyle Group did back the sale of the records to Scooter Braun’s Ithaca Holdings, there is no evidence that Youngkin had any involvement or even knowledge of the deal—or that disputes over the music rights of ultra-wealthy pop stars would move a single vote.
McAuliffe’s criticisms of Youngkin’s time with The Carlyle Group are also undercut by the fact that McAuliffe himself is an investor in the firm. While McAuliffe has said that he has lost money on the investment, reporting from Axios suggests that claim doesn’t add up either.
McAuliffe also had another major messaging slipup earlier this month when he told campaign surrogates on a call that “we are facing a lot of headwinds from Washington,” saying that Biden was “unpopular” in Virginia. The comment was quickly amplified by conservative media voices, and likely didn’t earn McAuliffe any good will from both supporters of President Biden – whom McAuliffe desperately needs to turn out in large numbers and vote for him – and from President Biden himself.
The Democrat establishment clearly recognizes that McAuliffe is in trouble. As the Washington Post reported on Wednesday, the powers that be inside the Democratic Party are dispatching their “heavy hitters” to boost McAuliffe. First Lady Jill Biden will stump for the former governor, as will Stacey Abrams, the failed gubernatorial candidate from Georgia, and Keisha Lance Bottoms, the mayor of Atlanta. Nancy Pelosi will be hosting a fundraiser. Even Barack Obama will hit the campaign trail later this month, a sign of just how concerned Democrats are about McAuliffe’s prospects.
It’s clear that a Republican victory in Virginia would be a devastating blow to Democrats nationally and an ominous sign of things to come in next year’s midterm elections. Retiring Democratic Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin said that a Youngkin victory “would be a Scott Brown moment,” referring to Brown’s victory in a Senate special election in deep blue Massachusetts in 2010. Brown’s stunning upset was an early sign of the looming wipeout for Democrats that fall as a result of public backlash to Democratic overreach. In that election, Democrats also dispatched then-President Obama to campaign against Brown, unsuccessfully. More than a decade later, Republicans are now hoping for a repeat act, and McAuliffe himself may help them get it.
Admittedly, not all of McAuliffe’s slide is his fault. With Biden’s debacle in Afghanistan, his ongoing border crisis, and inflation and supply chain woes plaguing the nation’s economy, McAuliffe is weighed down by the Democrat party’s disastrous record in office. There’s also the fact that Youngkin has run an excellent campaign, particularly for a first-time candidate. But McAuliffe has only compounded those problems with his own ineptitude, a fact that may ultimately prove to be his undoing.
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