All eyes are on Virginia’s governor seat — and they don’t all belong to Virginians.
Political strategists nationwide are closely monitoring Tuesday’s election, hopeful it can provide a playbook for their party’s success in midterm elections next year.
As a traditional “battleground” state with mixed political allegiances, Virginia’s rare odd-year election has long drawn national attention. But the ongoing pandemic, fraught politics of recent years and near-parity in Congress have made this year’s contest especially compelling.
The candidates couldn’t be much further apart on the issues.
On one end of the spectrum: Terry McAuliffe, the former governor of Virginia from 2014-18 who has a long history in the national Democratic establishment.
On the other end: Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin, who has no legislative experience and has received multiple public endorsements from former President Donald Trump. Youngkin — who attended high school in Norfolk — is a former private equity consultant who’s largely self-funded his campaign with at least $16 million.
The race is extremely close. Most major polls show McAuliffe with a slim lead, but within the margin of error.
A third candidate, Princess Blanding, is left out of most polls. She represents the Liberation Party, which she created last year.
Blanding, a teacher who would be the first female — and Black woman — to hold the office, said she was spurred to politics after a Richmond police officer killed her brother in 2018. She said she’d “declare a climate emergency” in Virginia. Blanding interrupted a gubernatorial debate last month to protest not being invited to participate.
McAuliffe and Youngkin have spent their campaigns painting each other with broad strokes as emblematic of their respective parties.
The former says Youngkin is concealing his affinity to Trump while trying to project himself as a moderate. He criticized Youngkin for a rally in which supporters said the Pledge of Allegiance to a flag that was carried during the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6.
“He’s a total wannabe Donald Trump,” McAuliffe said during the final gubernatorial debate.
“You’re running against me, not Trump,” Youngkin shot back.
Youngkin says McAuliffe is hiding extremely progressive views on issues such as abortion and defunding law enforcement.
McAuliffe has said he’ll be a “brick wall” supporting women’s rights in Virginia, including enshrining abortion protections granted by Roe v. Wade into the state constitution.
He framed the issues in economic terms, claiming that Youngkin’s election would scare off big companies from the state because of what he said are discriminatory views.
McAuliffe has spent the final weeks before the election bringing in Democratic heavy hitters to campaign for him, including former President Barack Obama.
With school board meetings turning tense — and sometimes violent — across the commonwealth, schools have become an unlikely battleground in the race. One of McAuliffe’s remarks during the debate has come back to haunt him in Youngkin attack ads.
The former governor was referencing a bill he vetoed in 2017 allowing parents to opt out of letting their children study material deemed sexually explicit — prompted by a mother who objected to her son reading Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.”
“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” McAuliffe said.
Youngkin has used the words as evidence of his opponent going “on the attack against parents.” He also promised to ban critical race theory from schools on his first day of office. (The theory tries to explains how race and racism affects people’s lives and is not taught in Virginia’s K-12 schools.)
As of Sept. 30, the most recent campaign finance figures available, McAuliffe was slightly ahead of Youngkin in fundraising — nearly $44.5 million to $42.3 million — according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Blanding raised more than $30,000.
The Virginian-Pilot asked gubernatorial candidates the following question: If elected, what would be your top priority and how would you get it done? Here are their answers:
Glenn Youngkin, Republican
Occupation: Business leader
Previous office held: None
Education: Harvard Business School, MBA, 1994; Rice University, B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and B.A. in Managerial Studies, 1990
My vision for Virginia is one day, we will lead the nation in job creation, because taxes are low and regulations are reasonable, because small business can access capital, people can hire who they need to hire, and expand, because every graduate is either college ready or career ready with the skill that will put them on the pathway to a more prosperous future. To reinvigorate our job machine, we will take several important steps. My vision is a Virginia with safe neighborhoods, where our children can play without worry, where the elderly can take a walk without fear, with police partnering with communities to patrol and keep everyone safe.
Terry McAuliffe, Democrat
Occupation: Former Governor of Virginia
Previous office held: 72nd Governor of Virginia
Education: Georgetown Law, J.D.; Catholic University of America, B.A.
I am running for governor to keep our economy strong, make health care affordable, and create a world-class education. I’m going to create good-paying jobs, deliver a $2 billion annual investment in education, secure a $15 minimum wage by 2024, and ensure that every Virginian has access to paid sick, family and medical leave. I have done it before and I will do it again.
Princess Blanding, Liberation Party
Previous office held: None
Education: Master’s degree in K-12 education and supervision and EdS in Educational Leadership; did not identify universities.
The continuous failures of the two-party system, specifically those of the Democratic Party, is why I decided to run for Governor of Virginia. As an activist, I advocate for and elevate the voices and concerns of working-class Virginians and address the inequities in our Black and most marginalized communities. The foundational policies of my campaign prioritize community care, public safety, racial, and economic justice, humanity, and equity. As governor I will first and foremost declare a climate emergency. I will use all necessary leverage to ensure that Virginia critically examines its role in the climate crisis and works to slow and reverse our adverse effects on the planet. I will immediately pass the bill to end qualified immunity and I will work diligently and collaboratively with community members across the Commonwealth to prioritize, uplift the voices, needs and concerns of all Virginians.