WINCHESTER, Virginia — In the first post-pandemic election, voters here showed their dissatisfaction with the Democrats, handing victories to GOP candidates running for the top two jobs in the state. In his victorious race for governor, businessman Glenn Allen Youngkin became the first Republican to win statewide in a dozen years, proving Virginia isn’t so true blue, after all.
The reckoning happened in a state Joe Biden won in a comfortable landslide less than a year ago, in a place where Republicans have lost their majority in the state chamber over the past four years.
While the Democratic nominee for governor, Terry McAuliffe, insisted the election was all about Donald J. Trump and patted his party on the back for its COVID policies, voters here gave him a wake-up call. Virginians voted on what they think the next problems are: the economy, their children’s education, crime, and definitely not COVID.
McAuliffe’s strategy of focusing on COVID, Trump, Trump and Trump was wildly out of touch. He and his fellow Democrats missed the most fundamental thing about human behavior, which is that people always vote looking forward. What matters is their lives, their children’s lives, their grandchildren’s lives and their community — not what happened yesterday.
When the Dems won the presidency, a narrow majority in the House and split the power in the Senate last year, they did so on a promise to return to normal. Yet, on every issue, whether it was shutting down the pipelines on day one, ignoring the crisis at the southern border, dismissing concerns about inflation, failing completely on the withdrawal from Afghanistan, or directing the Department of Justice to address angry parents at raucous school board meetings, voters soured on how they governed.
Even the coveted suburban college-educated voters gave Youngkin 45 percent of their backing in Loudoun County, a multicultural and wealthy string of suburbs considered one of the most-educated counties in America.
Voters of all parties and persuasions turned out on Tuesday in record-shattering numbers — disproving McAuliffe’s claim that turnout and enthusiasm for Democrats would be a problem. In fact, McAuliffe received around 200,000 more votes than current Democrat Gov. Ralph Northam received four years ago.
Youngkin, now the governor-elect of Virginia, won with a coalition of working-class whites, evangelicals and the support of 46 percent of suburban voters — up a whopping 6 percentage points over Trump’s suburban numbers in 2020. He also won 45 percent of college-educated voters, according to statistics compiled by the Associated Press VoteCast. He and McAuliffe evenly split the Hispanic vote, a culturally conservative voting bloc that has continued to shift further and further right as the Democrat Party keeps lurching toward a progressive socialist platform.
Crime was the issue that first moved Youngkin from six points to less than one point behind his opponent, after McAuliffe said in May he wanted “everybody to have access to parole.” In the final weeks, Youngkin’s support grew incrementally as he discussed the economy and parents’ concerns over their children’s education, which has become increasingly dominated by critical race theory.
What is most remarkable about this election is that Youngkin’s overall message resonated everywhere in what was thought to be a very blue state, said Bruce Haynes, a Republican and chairman of a Virginia-based public affairs strategic communications firm.
“Youngkin’s proposal to eliminate the sales tax on groceries resonated strongly with people who rely on the public school system, and who are impacted by gas prices and supply chain shortages,” Haynes said. “And his message on education reflected the reality the parents saw and heard in their own homes during the pandemic. They saw firsthand how their children were taught.”
Plus, despite his estimated $440 million fortune, father-of-four Youngkin was not an objectionable candidate. “He was a fleece-vest-wearing family man who was as unthreatening as Trump was provocative,” Haynes said.
Youngkin served up a plate of traditional Republican economic ideas sprinkled with a dose of educational populism, and voters — especially those most vulnerable to and impacted by the pandemic — were hungry for it.
The biggest problem for Democrats is they never tried to fix their estrangement from blue collar and rural voters and relied only on hatred of Trump to reap the suburbs. Eventually they were going to have to face an election without Trump.
This is the first one. And it will not be the last.
Salena Zito is the author of “The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics.“