Northern Virginia Republicans could sway governor's race in key blue state

Virginia governor’s race in dead heat with six days to go

Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin on running for election.

The suburbs of Northern Virginia, just outside of D.C., have been steadily trending blue since about 2013 but a shift to the red here could determine who will be Virginia’s next governor. In the 2021 gubernatorial race, area Republicans are going hard at bat for nominee Glenn Youngkin in what polls show is shaping to be a very tight race statewide. Democrat Joe Biden won Virginia by 10 points in the 2020 presidential election. 

Youngkin, a businessman born in Richmond, worked in private equity for 25 years before entering the Virginia gubernatorial race. After securing the Republican nomination through a self-funded campaign, he has run on a pro-life, anti-vaccine platform.

“People are excited right now,” said Fairfax County GOP Chairman Steve Knotts. “A few years ago, I’d go to a polling site, and people would come and hug me saying, ‘We haven’t seen a Republican in this precinct for years!’, and now we’re there consistently.”

Matthew Hurtt, director of communications for the Arlington County Republicans, also reports an uptick in the energy. He said that election integrity is a cause people care a lot about, driving the participation they’re seeing. According to him, in the last election local voting locations had 400 Republican election officers, and this year there will be 1,100 of them. 

Kevin Hulbert puts pro-Youngkin signs up as people gather to protest different issues including the board’s handling of a sexual assault that happened in a school bathroom in May, vaccine mandates and critical race theory during a Loudoun County School Board meeting in Ashburn, Virginia, U.S., October 26, 2021. Picture taken October 26, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis
(REUTERS/Leah Millis)

Youngkin’s opponent, McAuliffe, who was governor from 2014 to 2018, has worked with the Clintons and was chairman of the Democratic National Convention and the Democratic National Committee. McAuliffe is a strong supporter of mask and vaccine mandates, an advocate for universal background checks for guns, and a supporter of the Affordable Care Act. He recently faced the ire of many parents in Northern Virginia after making a recent comment that parents shouldn’t dictate what schools are allowed to teach. 

Education issues will likely have a heavy influence on the election, from mask mandates to curriculum. Northern Virginia school district Fairfax County recently made headlines for a heated debate surrounding U.S. history curriculum at a school board meeting. Northern Virginia encompasses eight separate school districts totaling 409,319 students.

Loudon County is the epicenter of the national debate over parental rights in public education and the related controversy over Critical Race Theory. A Loudon school board member has called for the superintendent to resign after allegedly covering up the on-campus rape of a female student. When the father of the girl in that case attended a school board meeting to protest its actions, he was arrested. One school board member has resigned, and Youngkin has called for more resignations. 

“Parents feel unheard by the schools,” said Hurtt. 

HOW TO VOTE IN THE VIRGINIA GUBERNATORIAL ELECTION ON NOVEMBER 2

Parents are unhappy about several issues that may influence the election’s outcome. Said Knotts, “From the shutdowns last year to not following the science when it said schools should be open to discussions of divisive racial indoctrination. They call it equity and inclusion, other people call it [Critical Race Theory].”

Knotts also cited crime and public safety as important issues in this election. 

“We’re watching crime skyrocket, from the whole defund the police movement, the [School Resource Officers] out of public schools, fights and other activity going on. There’s a lot of things to do with public safety in general that people are really concerned about right now,” Knotts continued. 

Tristan Thorgersen puts pro-Youngkin signs up as people gather to protest different issues including the board’s handling of a sexual assault that happened in a school bathroom in May, vaccine mandates and critical race theory during a Loudoun County School Board meeting in Ashburn, Virginia, U.S., October 26, 2021. Picture taken October 26, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis
(REUTERS/Leah Millis)

Crime statistics for 2021 are hard to come by as the year is not over yet, but an analysis from Prince William County Police Department compared January-September 2020 with January-September 2021. The report shows that 2021 has seen 77 more crimes against persons, 438 more crimes against property, but 619 fewer crimes against society, and the overall amount of offenses was fewer by 106 in the year 2021. In Loudon County, crime went down by 26% in 2021. 

Of course, economic issues will also play into the way people vote. 

“We’ve watched gas prices go up well over a dollar a gallon over the last 8 months,” said Knotts. “That’s the kind of thing–Virginia legislature adds a gas tax in the middle of all of this.”

According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), gas prices in Virginia have risen in the last year by $1.13 per gallon. 

“In the last few years, Virginia tumbled from being one of the best places to do business and now it’s one of the worst,” Hurtt said.

Hurtt cited legislation passed in January 2021 which requires businesses in Virginia to pay state income taxes on loans from the federal government, including PPP loans.

Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin participates in a debate with Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe at Northern Virginia Community College, in Alexandria, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

In addition to the various policy issues swaying the election, Hurtt said that Biden’s low approval ratings will help drive Republican votes. Knotts, however, believes that Youngkin could win without it. 

“The gap was closing before Biden fell all over himself,” said Knotts. “I think the new lower approval ratings don’t hurt but I still think that Glenn was still running a fantastic campaign, and if [Biden’s] approval ratings rise in the next few weeks I don’t think it will affect the outcome of this election.”

Ultimately, both the Fairfax GOP and the Arlington Republicans are energized and excited by Youngkin, who they call a “happy warrior” with strong business acumen and “a real feel for people”. 

“It’s refreshing to hear a candidate talk about what is possible,” said Hurtt. 

“He has a plan and a view for people,” Knotts said. “And when he says that he wants to make Virginia the best place to live, work, and raise a family, I believe him.”

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