Virginia Dem candidate Terry McAuliffe: "I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach"

From last night’s gubernatorial debate against Republican Glenn Youngkin, an … interesting soundbite from the guy on whom the fate of the Democratic agenda in Washington may rest. I don’t know how Democratic parents will react to it but it’s a gift to Youngkin in revving up GOP turnout. Few issues have been as urgent to conservatives over the past 18 months as parental control of their children’s education, from keeping schools open amid COVID to opposing mask mandates to resisting attempts to indoctrinate them with lessons on Critical Race Theory.

Now here’s McAuliffe telling them to pipe down and stay out of schools’ way. “’Elect me and you will have no say in your child’s education’ is a helluva campaign pitch,” tweeted Abigail Marone, Josh Hawley’s press secretary, about the clip.

If he had said that parents shouldn’t have absolute power over what schools teach (e.g., creationism in lieu of evolution), that would be one thing. For those who want total control over their kid’s education, homeschooling is an option. But he went much further than that. And he did so in the context of a sensitive subject, the degree to which sexually explicit material should be available to kids.

Is that a gamechanger in Virginia? It wouldn’t take much to shake up a race this tight:

It’s worth noting that the polls four years ago had Democrat Ralph Northam leading Republican Ed Gillespie by just four points and Northam more than doubled that margin on Election Day, winning by nine. But, with Trump in the White House, Northam was running as a member of the out-party; Dems were highly motivated to win there in order to flex their muscles after a painful loss in 2016. It’s Youngkin who’s the candidate of the out-party this time. Are polls underestimating him?

If they are and he pulls the upset in a state Biden won by 10 points less than a year ago, it’s hard to overstate the extent of the panic that will grip Democrats. Northam’s big win turned out to be a harbinger of the blue wave that flipped the House in 2018. Youngkin winning in Virginia would be taken as a sign that a red wave is coming and could detonate Biden’s legislative program overnight in Washington. Centrist Dems will pull back from deals with progressives and tack right (even though McAuliffe is a consummate establishmentarian, not a lefty firebrand). The White House knows it and is watching the race closely, sweating all the way:

A loss to Republican Glenn Youngkin in the off-cycle governor’s race could set off a domino effect, with Democrats panicking and thinking it’s 2009 all over again — the year they last lost the state’s gubernatorial race, followed by a wipeout in Congress. Democrats fear the party will lose faith in the idea that Biden’s agenda will help boost their electoral prospects; that they’ll fret about his broader handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, and even question the embrace of vaccine mandates as an electoral cudgel after it found favor with a wide swath of Americans.

“There should be concern, it’s a close race. If Terry loses that’s going to scare a lot of Democrats on the Hill. It’s going to make people worry about the midterms and it’s going to make it harder to pass the president’s agenda,” said Josh Schwerin, a Democratic strategist who has worked as a McAuliffe political adviser and former press secretary. “People are going to get skittish if we lose this.”

This morning I said that even if the bipartisan infrastructure bill tanks in the House tomorrow, it could always be revived later if progressives and centrists end up making a deal. But it’s not as simple as that. If McAuliffe loses in November, centrists may bail permanently on reconciliation. Lefties are eager to get something done before then so that they don’t risk facing that scenario.

In fact, the midterm outlook for Dems if McAuliffe goes down will be so dire that the lefty commentariat will shift towards encouraging centrists to resign themselves to their fate — that they’re going to get wiped out next fall no matter what they do — and to use their remaining time in Congress to pass a bold agenda. If your choice is between losing after having accomplished nothing and losing after having accomplished something big, why not go big?

McAuliffe’s strategy against Youngkin, by the way, is to emulate Gavin Newsom’s strategy in California against Larry Elder by calling him a Trump stooge at every turn. That’s not irrational in a state Trump lost by 10; McAuliffe has even gone so far as to send sneaky mailers to suburban voters touting Trump’s support for Youngkin that made it look like they were sent by Youngkin’s campaign. Youngkin handed McAuliffe a gift last night too when he affirmed at the debate that he’d vote for the twice-impeached former president if he’s the party’s nominee again in 2024. But, unlike with McAuliffe’s answer on parents’ role in what schools should teach, Youngkin had no choice but to give that response. He can’t afford to alienate Trumpers. And Youngkin looks and sounds enough like a Romney Republican that his rhetorical support for Trump might not be held against him by suburbanites. He’s got a real shot at the upset.

Here’s his latest ad. Guess what it’s about.