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The biggest political mistake Virginia Democrats have made in 2021
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The biggest political mistake Virginia Democrats have made in 2021

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“Most of us hate anything that we don’t understand.” — from the song “Jesus Was a Capricorn,” by Kris Kristofferson.

If Republicans win this fall’s elections in Virginia — and they might — they will surely think themselves master strategists for winning a governorship in a state where they haven’t won a statewide election since 2009.

Republicans will deserve some credit, of course — firstly for nominating a pleasant-sounding cipher of a candidate who does not automatically repulse suburban voters the way some recent GOP nominees have (see Trump, Donald nationally and Stewart, Corey at the statewide level).

They will also deserve credit for taking an obscure academic theory that apparently isn’t even taught in Virginia and turning it into a clear and present danger that has whipped at least some voters into a frenzy.

It remains amazing how easily people are worked up over some phantom menace to the public schools while they ignore the actual physical condition of some of those schools.

If people, particularly in rural areas, devoted even a quarter of the emotional energy to school funding as they do to critical race theory, the disparity between rural and suburban schools might have been closed long ago. But we digress. Politically, the Republicans emphasis on critical race theory is as brilliant as it is calorie-free.

Republicans will have to thank Democrats, though, for one thing: The ongoing debate, county-by-county, city-by-city, over transgender policy.

What political genius thought it would be a good idea to have every locality in Virginia debate transgender policy in an election year? OK, this mandate from the Virginia Department of Education may not have been a political mandate in the electoral sense, but any mandate from Richmond is political at some level.

There is no way that Democrats will profit from these debates, and many ways in which they will lose.

That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be a transgender policy — unless school systems somehow think there are no trans students in their schools, in which case they are simply out of touch with reality.

Our point here is not to debate how many genders there are, but to point out that setting off a debate over transgender policy in every city and county in the state works to the benefit of Republicans and makes it harder for Democrats to retain the governorship or anything else in Richmond. (It also doesn’t seem to be helping the climate for transgender students in some of these counties.)

We have before us one of the starkest contrasts we’ve ever had in a Virginia governor’s race.

In Republican Glenn Youngkin, we have a candidate we really know nothing about. He’s never held office, and he’s said precious little in his campaign beyond some conservative bromides. All we know is that he was for a time co-CEO of the world’s second-largest private equity firm so we can surmise he knows something about money and might have some management acumen (although not enough to survive very long in the top post).

In Democrat Terry McAuliffe, we have a rarity of the opposite kind — a former governor seeking a second, non-consecutive term. That means while we know almost nothing about Youngkin and what kind of governor he would be, we know all there is to know about what kind of governor McAuliffe would be, because he’s been governor before — and the reviews on him were decidedly mixed. As we’ve pointed out before, near the end of his term, the Roanoke College Poll found only 43% of Virginia’s approved of his handling of the office. That’s hardly a mandate for a second term.

McAuliffe today is basically saying that he will save the state from installing a Trump acolyte as governor (never mind there’s no real evidence that Youngkin is a Trump acolyte. On the other hand, there’s not much evidence of any kind about what kind of governor he would be). It’s a good campaign strategy, under the circumstances.

Things such as critical race theory (which we discount because it’s a made-up issue) and transgender policy (which is a real thing because the state has mandated it) make life difficult for McAuliffe.

We dare to venture that most voters don’t want to hear about transgender policies even if they aren’t raging transphobes, yet a Democratic administration in Richmond is forcing them to do so.

This week, a member of the Washington County School Board resigned, citing what he called a “hate-filled” political climate following a recent debate over transgender policy.

There seems to be a hate-filled political climate everywhere these days, but it’s still worth looking at what happened during Washington County’s debate over transgender policy that led Todd Fleenor to resign.

The Bristol Herald Courier reports: “During the public comments section of the School Board meeting, Fleenor objected to an audience member calling Gov. Ralph Northam ‘Beelzebub’ — another name for Satan.” Then things went downhill from there.

This is not exactly an uplifting, high-minded public debate.

These are the crude emotions that have been unleashed. Democrats, particularly those in Northern Virginia, may laugh at what may seem to them the poor rubes of Southwest Virginia invoking a particularly colorful name for the prince of darkness.

After all, why should they concern themselves with Washington County, a county long ago lost to the Republicans? But if this debate has the effect of driving up Republican turnout in Washington County and anywhere else (and statistically 76% of turnout in Washington County is Republican), then Democrats may find they have four years in which to think again about whether this was a good idea.

- The Roanoke Times

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