Bolling: Final Thoughts on the 2021 Campaigns

By Bill Bolling

Tomorrow is Election Day and the polls remain very close. This race could go either way, depending on voter turnout and energy, which at this point seems to favor Republican Glenn Youngkin.

However, Democrats have historically had a very good turnout machine in Virginia, and if Democrats come to the polls to vote, especially Black Democrats, Terry McAuliffe could still win this race by a very close margin. That in and of itself is striking, since Mr. McAuliffe started the campaign with a comfortable 7 point lead, which brings me to my final observations about the 2021 campaign – what happened to Terry McAuliffe and the Democrats?

If McAuliffe loses this campaign, he has no one to blame but himself and other Democratic leaders. Why? Here are a few reasons.

1. McAuliffe has failed to energize the base of the Democratic Party, especially Black voters. No offense to McAuliffe, but he is everything the Democratic base does not want. He is older. He is male. He is White. He is moderate. That does little to excite the base of a party who wants younger, more diverse, and very liberal leaders. McAuliffe’s failure to motivate the base of the Democratic Party may be his biggest failure in this campaign, and it may cost him dearly.

2. McAuliffe served up the issue of the campaign to Glenn Youngkin during the final gubernatorial debate, when he asserted that parents should not be able to tell schools what to teach. McAuliffe was technically correct in his comment – parents have never been able to tell schools what to teach, those decisions have always been made by the State Board of Education – but the Youngkin campaign has used these comments to paint McAuliffe as “anti-parent”, an issue that has catapulted him into a statistical tie with McAuliffe over the last month of the campaign.

3. McAuliffe has failed to offer a compelling reason for why he should be returned to the Governor’s office. McAuliffe’s entire campaign has been based on the false argument that Glenn Youngkin is just like Donald Trump, which even a casual observer knows is not true. Trump is not on the ballot in 2021, but McAuliffe and Youngkin are. McAuliffe’s effort to scare people into voting against Youngkin has not worked, and he has failed to give people a reason to vote for him.

4. Governor Northam and legislative Democrats seriously overplayed their liberal hand for the past two years, and more moderate and independent voters have noticed. Democrats have, through their own policies, served up abuses at the Virginia Parole Board and the Virginia Employment Commission; and they own issues like Critical Race Theory, transgender advocacy in the public schools, and more. Youngkin has seized on all these issues to paint Democrats as liberal extremists, and independent voters have moved to Youngkin by a 2:1 margin. Many Virginians may be center left, but they are not far left, and they reject these far left policies.

Who knows, McAuliffe may still squeak out a victory in this election, but it is looking more and more like this may be the year that Republicans get back in the game.

Conversely, if Republicans can’t win in this environment they may never win again. Victory has been served up to them like a soft lob at center court. They just need to drive it home.

Bill Bolling spent 22 years in elected office including eight years as Virginia Lieutenant Governor. He now teaches government and politics at George Mason University, University of Richmond, and Virginia Commonwealth University.
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