Trump broke the suburbs for the GOP. Reconstruction could begin in Virginia.

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Donald Trump

Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s campaign put Trump at the center of the governor’s race and linked Youngkin to the former president in nearly 60 percent of his TV commercials that aired in the final weeks of the race, according to AdImpact, an advertising tracking company. But it’s unclear whether Trump is sparking the same urgency among voters now that he’s out of office. Meanwhile, Youngkin is hammering his message even more determinedly at the end of the race: AdImpact data shows that every single one of Youngkin’s closing TV commercials has focused on education and schools, a hot topic for suburban voters.

“Virginia will tell us if the earlier frustration with Trump continues in the suburbs,” said Robert Blizzard, a Republican pollster who focuses on suburban voters. “You got McAuliffe to talk about ‘Trump, Trump, Trump’ and Youngkin focused on suburban issues like education, the cost of living and jobs. This is the tug of war for the suburbs. “

Should Republicans regain traction in the Virginia suburbs in two weeks’ time, it could not only help paint the state red – it would inevitably sound the alarm bells among Democrats preparing for next year’s midterm elections . The suburban Virginia Democrats’ strong performance in the final governor’s race foreshadowed Democratic gains in nearly every major metropolitan area in 2018 and 2020 and helped turn the House and Senate around. The Republican rebound in the suburbs this year could suggest that Congress will head in the other direction in 2022.

“If the Democrats are bleeding in the suburbs now, there is no way you will bleed the suburbs next year,” said Dan Sena, former executive director of the Democratic Congress campaign committee.

Mary Margaret Kastelberg, a Republican businesswoman running for a seat in the House of Representatives in Henrico County outside of Richmond, said she had seen firsthand a change in the suburbs.

When she knocked on doors during her 2019 election campaign and spoke to voters, “I’ve definitely heard of Trump,” she said. It lost with 1,300 votes against the democratic state of Del. Rodney Willett amid “constant drumbeats” in the media about Trump, Kastelberg continued.

Now Kastelberg said, “I don’t hear anything from him at the door” as she competes against Willett in a rematch. “Trump fell on the list of what is important to them,” she added. “In this round, people are moving away from the labels and they actually want to know where I stand on education, the current hot topic.”

Kastelberg is one of several Republican women running in suburban counties, part of a deliberate effort by Virginia Republicans to recruit candidates who could appeal to voters there – particularly the college-educated women who were tough on the Trump era the GOP have turned. The Republican State Leadership Committee, the national group responsible for electing Republicans in state legislative elections, said 56 percent of the RSLC’s direct submission to the RSLC in Virginia went to female candidates.

Youngkin, meanwhile, is skilfully walking the tightrope between appealing to his conservative base without alienating moderate voters. A poll published in Monmouth on Wednesday found that the biggest push in Youngkin’s favor in recent weeks came from independent voters, who gave him 9 points on the poll. White college graduates only barely supported McAuliffe in the poll, while white voters without degrees switched hard to Youngkin and colored voters were equally supportive of McAuliffe.

Youngkin is a former executive director of a private equity firm who started a church from his basement and coached his children’s basketball teams. He often appears on the trails and in TV commercials wearing fleece vests and collared shirts and wearing an embroidered campaign logo.

“It’s especially important in the suburbs that people see someone to remind them of themselves,” said Secretary of State Emily Brewer, who served as co-chair of the Virginia House Republicans campaign.

And since winning the GOP nomination in May, Youngkin has largely avoided the intra-party struggles that plagued Republicans in other states, in which candidates compete for the most trooped option. Virginia Republicans interfered behind Youngkin because “we’ve lost so long that there is a lot of connective tissue between the base and the center of the party,” said Zack Roday, a Republican adviser based in Richmond. “People want to win.”

Instead, Youngkin has picked up on parents’ anger over school closings related to Covid and used conservative energy against “critical racial theory,” an obscure academic legal theory used by activists to attack racial education in schools.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA – OCTOBER 20: Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, answers questions from reporters after speaking at an early stage campaign on October 20, 2021 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Virginia gubernatorial election, in which McAuliffe competes against Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin, will take place on November 2nd. (Photo by Win McNamee / Getty Images) | Win McNamee / Getty Images

Even so, McAuliffe’s campaign has drilled Youngkin’s ties to Trump, an attempt to nationalize the race in the same way California Governor Gavin Newsom effectively linked his GOP opponent to Trump during a failed recall this summer. McAuliffe’s campaign tracked Youngkin for Trump’s support and attacked him for saying that Trump “represents so much of why I am running.” Earlier this week, McAuliffe’s campaign cut an ad featuring Youngkin supporters pledging allegiance to a flag worn during the January 6th Capitol Rising (Youngkin called the act “strange and false”).

It’s a strategy aimed at holding or even building on the suburban profits of the Democrats who shaped the Trump years. McAuliffe won Loudoun County with 3 points in his successful gubernatorial run in 2013; the current governor Ralph Northam won it in 2017 with a whopping 20 points. Outside Richmond, Northam won Chesterfield County, which had not supported a Democrat in the whole country since 1961. Biden would also win it in 2020 with 7 points.

In addition to tying Trump to Republicans, the Democrats rely heavily on vaccine mandates, paid family vacations, and abortion rights as key issues to deter suburban voters from returning to the GOP. They’re also bringing in Democratic heavyweights, including Barack Obama and Stacey Abrams, to stroll and build buzz for McAuliffe. Willett, the Democratic delegate running against Kastelberg, admitted two months ago that he feared that “voters were not as motivated” as they were during the Trump era.

“The [Texas] The abortion act really got people motivated because it really scared people out to show them what is happening with a single voice from a legislature, ”Willett said. “Because the people who lacked motivation are motivated again. Trump or Texas, whatever you want to call it, they are concerned. “

But unlike in the Trump era, the Democrats are now on defense in the suburbs. “No question about it, Republicans will reclaim some suburban voters after Trump,” said Tom Davis, a former Republican Congressman who represented Northern Virginia and chaired the National Republican Congressional Committee, “but suburban voters moved away from us before Trump. ”

“Democrats dated the suburbs all the time, but they’re not married,” Davis added.

Not all Republicans are this upbeat as they have watched college graduate women slip away from the party. “The fact [that] Trump really isn’t a factor that makes many Republicans feel like they have a chance here, but some of us feel like we’ve seen this movie before, “said a Republican strategist from Virginia, who granted anonymity on the subject to discuss openly. “And in the end, the demographics and the suburbs only give the Democrats one advantage that is difficult to overcome.”

And the window for Republicans to resume speaking with suburban voters could be short, some Republicans warned, as Trump makes more noise about running for president in 2024.

Right now Republicans are saying, “Moderates, never Trumpers, swap voters, ‘look, the water is fine, come back and in,’ but there’s a thundercloud over the horizon,” said Tucker Martin, who worked for Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, “2021 and 2022 may be a safe place for Republican candidates and suburban voters, but that could change very quickly in 2024.”

“Republicans can run in these places,” Martin continued. “The door is cracked, but I’m not sure we can open it.”

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