The state of Virginia, which holds elections on Tuesday, has become a laboratory for the Republican Party to find a formula that will serve to mobilize the base of Donald Trump but without scaring off middle-class voters in the suburbs.
Both Republicans and Democrats look at these elections for what they are, a first gauge – albeit local – of how things are in the run-up to the 2022 legislative elections, in which Joe Biden’s Democrats could lose a majority in both houses Congress and live two very complicated years until the presidential elections of 2024.
The balance between being in the shadow of Trump or not is complicated, although the Republican candidate for the Governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, seems to have found it as the polls show, which place him only one point below his Democratic rival, Terry. McAuliffe, who already ruled the state between 2014 and 2018.
In recent hours, Youngkin has jumped from one electoral event to another, shaking hands with everyone: from a bearded Trump supporter in a jacket with a picture of a rifle to a white woman who claims to be outraged by the closing of the elections. schools during the pandemic.
That woman is called Julie Byers and she attended an electoral rally with one of her six children in Manassas, a city just 50 kilometers from Washington and more conservative than the rest of northern Virginia.
“I voted for Trump and I like what he got, but his personality was difficult to take in. He was a bit divisive. I think Glenn Youngkin is the best of both worlds. He has good ideas, but also a good personality, ” he said.
“I think,” she added, “that Glenn Youngkin is going to bring people together, not divide them, and that’s what I like about him. He’s warm, charismatic, and genuine. “
Youngkin, 54, has created a “self-made man” image who went from cleaning dishes in Virginia Beach to amassing a $ 400 million fortune with the investment firm Carlyle, a position that made him a major donor. of the Republican Party.
Despite the parallels with Trump, as both businessmen without political experience, Youngkin has a very different style: he speaks in complete sentences and dodges controversies, although he also winks at the far-right wing of the party defending the false theory that the former president the elections were stolen.
SCHOOLS BRING TRUMPETS AND MODERATES TOGETHER
From time to time, he shakes up a conspiracy theory but his biggest asset is schools, an issue so far of little importance to Republicans but one that could be the recipe to unite Trumpistas and moderate voters from the suburbs.
Youngkin has taken advantage of the anger that the closure of schools aroused during the pandemic and has accused McAuliffe of wanting to exclude parents from their children’s education.
It also alleges that Democrats are trying to indoctrinate minors with the so-called critical race theory, which considers that the United States’ slave past is the origin of systemic racism that still permeates its laws and institutions.
Although that theory is not part of the Virginia schools curriculum, Jeff Fuller sees it as a great threat and equates it with “communism. “
“My greatest motivation is to prevent Virginia from falling over the precipice of socialism,” Fuller said convinced, wearing a cap adorned with an American flag and limping because he still carries “lead” from the Vietnam War (1955-1975) on his body. ).
One of the most repeated posters at the Manassas rally is “Parents for Youngkin,” but it is also mixed with others such as “Police for Youngkin,” “Farmers for Youngkin” and “Latinos for Youngkin.”
A REFERENDUM FOR BIDEN
All those posters in favor of the Republican candidate also appear nailed to the lawns of single-family houses in the suburbs of Arlington, adjacent to Washington and a Democratic stronghold in Virginia.
In that part of the state, however, messages in support of McAuliffe, a 64-year-old centrist Democrat close to Bill Clinton (1993-2001) and who, for decades, have been part of the party apparatus, are more prominent.
For him, 55-year-old Wendy Shamblain voted and he fears if Republicans win there will be a setback in rights for women and transgender people. “I am afraid that if we lose, it will cost us to win all that again,” he explained.
Like Shamblin, one million people voted early in Virginia, a much higher number than the nearly 200,000 in 2017.
In a state that was Republican until Barack Obama (2008-2017), one of the keys will be participating and the two campaigns are doing everything possible to get people to the polls.
If for Republicans the elections are a test of their ability to balance with Trump, for Democrats they represent a referendum on the nine months of Biden’s tenure.
Biden beat Trump in Virginia by 10 points in the presidential election, but history favors the Republican Party: Since 1977, Virginians have always voted against the party that is in the White House.
The exception is precisely McAuliffe, who won in 2013 when Obama was president.