For those of you who have asked, here are my very quickly sketched out thoughts on the big Republican win from last night. I’m sketching them because I strongly feel that there is a national strategy here that Republicans *should* be executing on a much larger level. I believe, and have long believed, that strategy is a National roadmap for Republicans.
To validate that, I am going to use the CNN Exit Polling from yesterday to highlight the issues that mattered to voters. So to start, let’s ask the question, what was the most important issue for voters in last night’s election?
"McAuliffe voters call the economy and coronavirus their top issues, followed by education. Among Youngkin voters, the economy is the top issue, followed by education and taxes."
So, the top issue was...wait for it...the Economy...for both parties! Republicans usually win on this issue...usually..however.....
"Most voters take a positive view of Virginia's economy....Roughly 40% trust only McAuliffe and about 43% trust only Youngkin, with the rest trusting both or neither."
OK, so I can bang the drum on the economy...BUT....voters are still essentially split on WHO is the best person as well as HOW well or not the economy is actually doing. Also, while the economy was the top issue in this election, only with 30% of voters stated so. This is a bit low verses a normal election and leaves 70% of voters saying something other than the economy mattered more! So what came next?
Democrats: "McAuliffe voters call the economy AND coronavirus their top issues, followed by EDUCATION." (Notice the "And")
Republicans: "Among Youngkin voters, the economy is the top issue, FOLLOWED BY EDUCATION...AND...taxes."
I've written before, but right now voters thoughts on the economy are largely tied to the Economy. Essentially voters feel one of two ways about it. They either feel that we need to promote the economy first (open up) or that we need to control the virus first (in order to get the economy moving). Both of those ideologies come from an economic point of view. It’s not that one prioritizes a virus over the economy or vice versa, it’s HOW they prioritize getting the economy moving in the right direction. In other words, like all elections since the history of time, it’s still all about the economy!
Now, we also clearly see that those two ideologies break along party lines. Republicans prioritize opening now, Democrats prioritize controlling the virus first, and oh, Independent voters are split (depending on the day of the week). In other words, you would have to engage a Democrat differently on the economy than you would a Republican. You'd have to need two differing strategies, have to execute two game plans, or risk simply catering to one and not the other. While the economy is still the primary most important issue in itself to voters, the reality is that ideological economic lane itself is currently smaller than it ever has been before!
So, with that in mind, let's go to the OTHER issue that both Republicans and Democrats cited that wasn’t tied directly to the economy....EDUCATION, and find out how voters felt.
"Preliminary results of exit polling show that roughly half of Virginia voters say parents should have a lot of say in what their children's schools teach, with about a third saying parents should have some say and a little over 1 in 10 saying they should have little or no say. That sentiment is even more pronounced among parents with children under 18, more than 60% of whom say parents should have a lot of say."
Did you see that? Only 10%.....said "little or no say" when it comes to parents involvement in their children's education. In other words, this is a 90% issue...unlike the economic one we just visited which is currently split. It’s also 90% of all voters…not just parents, who say it is a very important delineation. If 90% of all voters think education should be up to parents, but only 50% think you're right on the economy, which voting block presents more of an opportunity? Well, in Virginia, Team Youngkin and Team Terry had clearly differing thoughts.
"McAuliffe... crisscrossed the state, casting its elections as a chance for Democrats to validate their eight years of leadership in the commonwealth by delivering Republicans and the former President a defeat. Youngkin, meanwhile, leaned into local issues like education and fashioned himself as a champion for parental rights."
McAuliffe also had a horrific debate gaffe where he “ignited suburban parents” when he said “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach." The Hill even predicted that “Those 10 words – deserving of a top listing in the Hall of Fame of Political Blunders – may prove to be the turning point in a race in which McAuliffe was expected to cruise to victory.” However, ole Terry doubled down, and continued to execute his strategy of making the election a referendum on Trump, who again, is no longer actually in the White House or has any actual affect on the State of Virginia’s public policy.
“McAuliffe invited President Biden to campaign for him on Tuesday night. In all, Biden uttered Trump's name 24 times during his pitch for McAuliffe in a relatively short speech.”
So McAuliffe invited Biden out, had him talk about Trump, and again, doubled down on his comments. You know how many campaign stops Donald Trump did for Youngkin in Virginia? Exactly Zero. And while Youngkin did get the Trump endorsement, he didn’t make that the same issue McAuliffe tried to make it. Youngkin was fully focused on something else.
“Trump endorsed Youngkin, who at the time said he was "honored" to have been endorsed by the former president, though the Republican businessman campaigned largely on local issues such as education and lowering taxes….”
One of those strategies seemingly worked better, and one will likely work similarly better moving forward. So was the Hill right? Did those words think ole Terry? Here is how CNN Exits showed McAuliffe doing on that education issue that 24% of voters (and the Youngkin campaign) prioritized as their most important one:
- Losing “men with children” 41-59 and “women with children “44-56.”
- Losing the 24% of voters who prioritized “education” as their most important issue 47-53
- Losing the 52% of voters who say parents should have “a lot” of say in what schools teach….22-77!
- Winning…the 13% of voters who said parents should have “not much” “or “not at all” say in what schools teach…..86-13.
Here is the point, if you haven’t already given up reading my post at this point. McAuliffe took the 13% but Youngkin took the 52%. One is more valuable than the other. McAuliffe stuck with National Democrat strategy and tried to make a statewide Virginia state election a referendum on Trump, who is no longer President. Youngkin “leaned into local issues” and didn’t go all yahoo partisan and run as far right as he could.
Youngkin just won a statewide election one calendar year after Trump lost the same state by double digits. Do you really think that was entirely organic? Is that something that Trump can realistically take credit for (which of course, he already has anyway). Or can we at least look into the strategy here and talk about what the Youngkin campaign did that other Republican campaigns could, and should learn from?
Sure, CNN and some Democrats are accusing Republicans of “sounding the racism dog whistle” by using Critical Race Theory as an issue. Just know that isn’t actually what Younkin did. Sure, maybe National Republicans sounded an alarm of sorts, but not Team Youngkin. They just addressed the actual issues, and like it or not, instituting CRT is an actual issue for a lot of actual parents. It's an issue for those parents because children are learning a lot less actual reading, writing, and arithmetic in school these days then they used to! So, while his campaign website devotes less than one entire sentence to actual CRT, it devotes a lot more to education in general, and more specifically, how to improve it! Here is the full text below:
Restore Excellence In Education
Virginia’s students have fallen behind because of extended school closings, lower school standards, and political agendas. Glenn will empower parents and restore excellence and commonsense.
• Keeping Schools Open Safely Five Days a Week • Restoring High Expectations & Getting Every Student College or Career Ready • Ridding Political Agendas from the Classroom by Banning Critical Race Theory • Rebuilding Crumbling Schools, Raising Teacher Pay, & Investing in Special Education Programs • Creating at least 20 New Innovation Charter Schools across the K-12 Spectrum to Provide Choice
Look at the terminology he uses. They are things like “empower parents,” “restoring expectations,” “rebuilding,” “raising,” “creating,” and more. There is one negative sentence in there, and five positive ones. At the end of the day, “empowering parents” is not “sounding the racism dog whistle.” In fact, Youngkin’s whole education game plan wasn’t even centered around CRT at all, it was about two things, empowering parents, and increasing access. And the two biggest proponents of this platform? Winsome Sears, now set to be the first ever black Lt. Governor of Virginia, and Jason Miyares, now set to be the first ever Hispanic Attorney General of Virginia, and a child of immigrants.
Look, CRT is an issue, and it is one that Republicans are using. No denial there. I am simply saying that it is not enough of an issue to flip an entire state by over ten points. Youngkin listened to voters and addressed their concerns with an actual education plan geared at, improving the education system itself, something that CRT has nothing to do with. While many are now free to debate the merits of being able to follow through on his large scale education plan, something Hewitt pondered in the article referenced above, the bottom line is that this wasn’t another one trick pony campaign. Team Youngkin successfully made the campaign about the issues as opposed to the ideology.
Education is a winning issue for Republicans but right now CRT is no more of a scare tactic for Republicans than Trump has been for Democrats. Republicans were more diverse in Virginia than Democrats were, they were more in tune with issues in Virginia than Democrats were, and they were more local than Democrats in Virginia were. There's a lot more I could break down here. The question is simple. Moving forward, will other Republicans learn from this election and take the entire playbook, or will they just take a page? We have a lot more elections ahead of us to find that out.