When it started, the Virginia gubernatorial race looked as if it would be a strictly local affair with little national meaning. The commonwealth has gone from red to purple to blue in recent years, its status confirmed when Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by 10 points.
With well-known Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a former governor, heavily favored to defeat Glenn Youngkin, a Republican businessman making his first political run, the stage seemed set for a predictable finish.
Then all hell broke loose.
The change began in unlikely fashion — with parent complaints over critical race theory and other far-left approaches in schools in Loudoun County, a suburban Democratic stronghold in the northern part of the state. That was followed in quick succession by an enormous McAuliffe blunder and a heavy-handed threat by the Biden Justice Department against dissenting parents.
In a flash, the Virginia race has become the ultimate referendum not just on the Biden presidency but also on much of the culture war engulfing America.
Reflecting sharp national divisions, McAuliffe and Youngkin are in a dead heat, at 45 percent each, according to a USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll released Tuesday.
Biden, of course, is proving to be a drag on Dems, with his approval among Virginia voters just 41 percent, against 52 percent disapproval, slightly worse than his national numbers.
But the paramount issue centers on schools and the role parents should have in what their children are taught and how schools are run. By definition the most local of issues, those questions have spawned a movement that could prove decisive in next year’s midterms and even the 2024 presidential race.
If that happens, the credit, or blame, will go to an offhanded remark by McAuliffe. In a debate, he foolishly said “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” and Youngkin grabbed it like a life raft.
He put the comment in ads and the change in his fortunes was almost instantaneous. In Tuesday’s poll, when asked who should have more of an influence on a school’s curriculum, 49.8 percent sided with parents compared with 38.8 percent who said school boards.
That is the stuff of political revolution.
That finding also reflects the fallout of a well-known Loudoun school-board meeting in June when a father, Scott Smith, began berating board members, saying his daughter had been raped in a girl’s restroom by a boy identifying as a girl and that the school had covered it up.
Smith was dragged to the ground and arrested by police — and the left, including much of the media, mocked him as a nut.
But we know now Smith was right in both of his charges. First an e-mail surfaced showing the superintendent of schools telling board members about the restroom assault even though he had said publicly “the predator transgender student or person simply does not exist,” and that “we don’t have any record of assaults occurring in our restrooms.”
Then, on Monday, a family court judge found the teen guilty of the restroom assault. The boy, who was said to be wearing a skirt, was allowed in the restroom because of a Loudoun policy that lets students use the restroom that matches their gender identity, a policy that is also fueling parent anger. It turns out the boy is also charged with a second sexual attack, in another high school in the same county.
Still, there is a good chance these disparate facts might not have coalesced into a potentially decisive political issue except for the role of the White House. In a classic case of trying to make artificial turf look like a grassroots movement, Biden aides secretly worked with a national school-board association to craft a letter alleging that rising threats against teachers and officials amounted to a form of “domestic terrorism.”
Soon after he got the letter, Attorney General Merrick Garland directed the FBI and federal prosecutors and US Attorneys to meet with local law enforcement to “discuss strategies for addressing this disturbing trend.”
In fact, there is no trend, and the school-board association withdrew the letter and apologized for the language, saying the two officials who wrote it had no authority to do so. Garland has yet to apologize or disband his proposed task force to criminalize parent complaints.
Meanwhile, one of the officials who wrote the recanted letter, Viola Garcia, was appointed by the White House to a national board that develops student-tracking tests. The odor speaks for itself.
The sequence reveals that the incompetence of the Biden White House continues unabated. Obviously trying to help McAuliffe by making his comment about angry parents look wise, they ended up damaging him and themselves.
They also revealed that Garland’s Justice Department is willing to use law enforcement to chase political enemies, real and imagined.
Here’s the good news: Many Virginia parents are awake, but not woke. Rightly alarmed by government overreach, they realize they have ceded too much power to school officials who regard them as nuisances at best.
That alarm was sounded again when Barack Obama campaigned for McAuliffe over the weekend and defended school boards while blasting parent attacks. “We don’t have time to be wasting on these phony, trumped-up culture wars, this fake outrage that right-wing media peddles to juice their ratings,” the former president said.
Parent groups were furious all over, and accused Obama of being as tone deaf as McAuliffe. The only surprise is that they were surprised. Recall that Obama’s Education Department started the policy that lets boys who identify as girls use the girls restroom.
None of this is to predict that Youngkin will pull an upset on Nov. 2. But if he does, or even comes close, it will be a national shock wave that could affect the next election and everything Congress does between now and then.
In effect, the outcome in Virginia could neuter what’s left of the administration’s radical attack on traditional American values and culture.
Be woke or go broke
Reader Eric Moore shows that the school wars are all over the Empire State, too. He writes: “Here in eastern upstate New York, in the rural Cambridge school district, a controversy arose around the school mascot being an American Indian. There was a lot of back and forth among the citizens and ultimately, the school board voted to retain the [team] name Indians, although previously there had been a vote to ban it.
“Just recently, the state Education Department sent a highly threatening letter, demanding that the district eliminate the use of the Indian mascot. If they don’t comply, their state aid will be taken away, which would bankrupt the district.”
Are there enough strawberries in strawberry Pop Tarts? A court might decide.
Shouldn’t consumers be the judge?
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