National, local politics share stage in Virginia Governor’s race

Published: Aug. 19, 2021 at 2:24 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - One may wonder if all politics national, as the country’s political fights are play out in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

President Joe Biden crossed the Potomac to campaign for Terry McAuliffe in Virginia last month as the former governor runs for a second, non-consecutive term. Republican Glenn Youngkin won former President Donald Trump’s backing after emerging from the primary field, and the party’s National Committee is investing substantially more resources than in past races.

“For many years, national politics were pretty irrelevant to state elections,” Georgetown University Political Science Professor Mark Rom said, “times have changed.”

Rom said even city council races can turn on national issues now. He expects plenty of discussion surrounding wedge issues that divide our country and record breaking spending but believes the Virginia governor’s race will hinge on turnout and the usual pocketbook issues.

“It’s going to be a fascinating race,” he said.

“For Virginians, the issues are really straight-forward,” Youngkin said in a recent interview. The former private equity titan and political newcomer centers his talking points around jobs, education, and safety while simultaneously slipping into national debates over the economy, critical race theory, and defunding the police.

The word ‘Republican’ was notably absent in his first T.V. ad but said he’s never voted for a Democrat when asked if he’s ever split a ticket. “I’m a Republican,” he said, “but I do believe there’s a chance right now to bring people together across party lines.”

Experts like Rom see Youngkin making a conscious choice to avoid tying his political fate to former President Trump, who lost Virginia by 10 points in 2020.

Youngkin said he’s proud to have received former President Trump’s endorsement but dodged when asked whether Trump would join him on the campaign trail or whether he’s a ‘Trump loyalist’ as his opponent contends.

McAuliffe embraces his ties to President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “That’s all good for Virginia,” he exclaimed and adding he could get each on the phone if problems arose that needed solutions from the top of federal government circles.

McAuliffe argues the state’s large federal workforce and military installations tie Virginians’ lives and livelihoods to national affairs, noting federal fights over health care, abortion, and efforts to raise the federal minimum wage do as well.

He said a nationalized state election would not complicate any future efforts to govern. “It’s not nationalization on politics,” he said, “it’s that people in Virginia understand the close nexus we have to the federal government.”

Control over Washington won’t be on the ballot this November but many will see Virginia’s choice as an indicator of which party is better positioned for 2022.

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