Axios: McAuliffe's panic is real -- and it's spectacular

AP Photo/Cliff Owen

How spectacular? You have to read down to the bottom of Axios’ report to get a sense of Terry McAuliffe’s frenzy. His campaign demanded equal time after Axios did a 20-minute interview with Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin — but then tried to cut the interview off again:

Between the lines: The race in Virginia is tight, and it was clear the McAuliffe campaign has taken on an air of tension — bordering on panic.

McAuliffe cut off one television interview last week, and his staff told Axios a planned 20-minute interview — which they had requested following the Axios interview with Youngkin — was being limited to five minutes.

Even in the five minutes McAuliffe allocated, he mostly filibustered about Trump:

McAuliffe himself got agitated as Axios asked him about his efforts to tie Youngkin to Trump. “I’m not tying — he’s tying himself. He said, ‘I’m honored to receive his endorsement, so much of the reason why I’m running is because of Donald Trump.’ I’m not tying him; he is.”

The panic comes from the failure of that message — and that message alone — to rescue McAuliffe. Two new polls out in the last week put the Virginia race into a full blown tie. Last week, the Republican polling group Trafalgar put the race at 48/48, which Democrats might have been able to shrug off as a partisan result. Late last week however, Monmouth put the race at 46-all after having McAuliffe up five points a month earlier.

RCP still has McAuliffe up slightly in its aggregation, but it’s only by less than two points at 48.8/47. Three months ago, Youngkin polled in the 30s and McAuliffe enjoyed a wide lead, albeit not a terribly convincing one while polling in the low 40s himself. One week before the election, it’s pretty clear who has the momentum now, and it’s not Terry Mac.

Now McAuliffe has decided to re-direct his campaign energy into public education, which is rather surprising given his recent proclamation that parents should butt out of public-education policy:

In the closing weeks of their closely watched Virginia gubernatorial race, Terry McAuliffe is going after Glenn Youngkin on unlikely ground — public education — as he tries to reverse the Republican’s surprisingly strong challenge.

The Associated Press points out that this plays right into Youngkin’s hands in the final days of the election, and they’re clearly unhappy about it:

In a speech in Northern Virginia’s suburbs last week, the Republican candidate for governor highlighted the murky case of a student who allegedly committed sex crimes in two area schools. He said the incidents, which have sparked community outrage, are the result of failed Democratic leadership.

“What other tragedy awaits Virginia’s children?” an atypically grim-faced Youngkin asked from the podium, flanked by a collection of parents and schoolchildren.

On the eve of the Nov. 2 election, Youngkin’s dark message represents a new front in his monthslong push to repair the Republican Party’s standing in the suburbs, where college-educated moms and dads forcefully turned against Donald Trump’s GOP.

Shying away from Trump and his divisive rhetoric for much of the year, Youngkin has adopted a suburban strategy that instead emphasizes an approachable image and “kitchen table” issues like taxes, public safety and education. He’s also tried to link his education platform to the frustrations of Virginia activist groups — many of them run by officials with former ties to the Trump administration, the Republican Party or both — already upset by school pandemic restrictions and transgender policies, as well as classroom curricula they see as too liberal and un-American.

Youngkin’s final-days focus on sexual predators in schools, hardly a widespread issue, will test the limits of his suburban outreach and provide lessons for Republicans aiming to retake control of Congress next year.

“Hardly a widespread issue”? The issue got raised in Loudoun County in part because the school district failed to report such cases, which might explain why it doesn’t appear as “widespread.” It’s fun to read this “news” report to catch all of the editorializing within it, though; “dark,” “grim-faced,” and Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump.

Looks like McAuliffe’s not the only one panicking in Virginia.

Speaking of which, another telling signal in Virginia is the extent to which the candidates are running their own campaigns in the final days. The Washington Times notes that McAuliffe is letting the national party do the talking, much more so than Youngkin:

Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin is going at it alone in the home stretch of Virginia’s gubernatorial race and passing on the chance to invite the party’s biggest guns into the state.

Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe is embracing a different strategy. He is rolling out the red carpet for Democratic Party players, musicians and Hollywood actors as part of a last-ditch effort to energize voters and retake momentum.

Mr. McAuliffe has already joined forces with former President Barack Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris. He plans to campaign this week with President Biden.

Mr. Youngkin kicked off a “Win With Glenn” bus tour over the weekend. He touted it as a chance to draw a “contrast between the grassroots enthusiasm for Glenn Youngkin’s candidacy and Terry McAuliffe’s desperate campaign that needs fellow career politicians Stacey Abrams, Joe Biden, Keisha Lance Bottoms, Kamala Harris and Barack Obama to draw mediocre crowds that attended to see the surrogates, not Terry.”

McAuliffe brought in Obama, Abrams, and to a lesser extent Harris and Lance Bottoms to shore up support among black voters. That alone is noteworthy for a Democratic candidate, and is necessary thanks to McAuliffe’s bigfooting of the primary over up-and-coming black candidates. Bringing in Biden, though, is probably a mistake twice over. First off, Biden’s not terribly popular, but it also reminds Virginia voters that McAuliffe is a creature of the DC establishment. That’s not a great look in these populist times, but then again, neither is telling parents that they shouldn’t stick their noses into their children’s education.

Of course, just because Team McAuliffe hit the panic button doesn’t mean they will lose. But it certainly does make Virginia’s election a lot more interesting than it should be after Joe Biden won the state by ten points a year ago.

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David Strom 8:30 PM | February 22, 2024