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Politics: Virginia GOP sees Youngkin as chance to reverse party course

Abortion, schools take center stage in Virginia governor's election ad wars

  Abortion, schools take center stage in Virginia governor's election ad wars National issues such as abortion and schools have taken center stage in Virginia's television ad wars between former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glen Youngkin.The commonwealth's competitive race for governor is viewed by many as a harbinger of what's to come in the 2022 midterms, and the race is already proving to be a testing ground for some of the biggest national issues that could influence next year's elections.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — As he explains it, part of why Glenn Youngkin decided to run for Virginia governor was a feeling that the state's beaten and battered Republican Party “could do so much better.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin speaks to supporters during a rally in Fredericksburg, Va., Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. Youngkin will face Democrat former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in the November election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) © Provided by Associated Press Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin speaks to supporters during a rally in Fredericksburg, Va., Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. Youngkin will face Democrat former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in the November election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) Democratic gubernatorial candidate former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks to supporters during a rally in Richmond, Va., Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021. McAuliffe will face Republican Glenn Youngkin in the November election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) © Provided by Associated Press Democratic gubernatorial candidate former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks to supporters during a rally in Richmond, Va., Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021. McAuliffe will face Republican Glenn Youngkin in the November election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

That's a polite way to put it. Since Virginia went blue for Barack Obama in 2008, Republicans have been on a downhill slide, the pace of which quickened during President Donald Trump's administration. The GOP, which hasn't won a statewide race in Virginia since 2009, saw its legislative majority melt away.

Youngkin's school warnings intensify GOP's suburban push

  Youngkin's school warnings intensify GOP's suburban push ASHLAND, Va. (AP) — Glenn Youngkin wants voters in Virginia to hear an urgent message: Your children are in danger. In a speech in Northern Virginia's suburbs last week, the Republican candidate for governor highlighted the murky case of a student who allegedly committed sex crimes in two area schools. He said the incidents, which have sparked community outrage, are the result of failed Democratic leadership. “What other tragedy awaitsIn a speech in Northern Virginia's suburbs last week, the Republican candidate for governor highlighted the murky case of a student who allegedly committed sex crimes in two area schools. He said the incidents, which have sparked community outrage, are the result of failed Democratic leadership.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks to supporters during a rally in Richmond, Va., Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021. McAuliffe will face Republican Glenn Youngkin in the November election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) © Provided by Associated Press Democratic gubernatorial candidate former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks to supporters during a rally in Richmond, Va., Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021. McAuliffe will face Republican Glenn Youngkin in the November election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

That long losing streak, and the unusually high hopes surrounding Youngkin, has made his race against Democrat Terry McAuliffe a high-stakes moment for the GOP. Some view it as the last chance to regain a foothold in an increasingly diverse and liberal state, before the party loses a generation of voters and a Southern battleground slips firmly into Democrats' column.

“This is the year a Republican’s got to win that race,” said Patrick McSweeney, a former chair of the Republican Party of Virginia.

Glenn Youngkin: What to know about the GOP Virginia governor candidate

  Glenn Youngkin: What to know about the GOP Virginia governor candidate Republican Glenn Youngkin, a wealthy 54-year-old Virginia former private equity executive, married father of four, and political newcomer is on the ballot to be Virginia's next governor on Nov. 2.Youngkin was born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1966 to father Caroll Youngkin, an accountant and star basketball player at Duke University, and mother Ellis Youngkin, a teacher, author and nursing Ph.D. Youngkin grew up in Richmond and Virginia Beach and was the star of his Norfolk High basketball team before graduating high school in 1985 and enrolling at Houston’s Rice University, where he studied engineering and played four years of Division 1 basketball.

The troubles that have sunk Republicans here are familiar well beyond Virginia. In recent years, either the party's hard-line base has backed candidates that don't appeal to the moderate suburbs or mainstream candidates have bowed to far-right positions. The party has also struggled to gain support from nonwhite voters.

But this year, the party nominated a racially and geographically diverse statewide ticket, and Republicans from all factions of the party appear to have rallied around Youngkin, a political newcomer who's proved to be a strong campaigner with appeal well beyond the far-right. Youngkin also appears to be benefiting as voters sour on a Democrat-controlled Washington. Polls suggest the contest, which will likely be the state's most expensive governor's race ever, is a dead heat.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin gives a thumbs up after getting out of an army truck at a airshow in Fredericksburg, Va., Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. Youngkin will face Democrat former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in the November election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) © Provided by Associated Press Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin gives a thumbs up after getting out of an army truck at a airshow in Fredericksburg, Va., Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. Youngkin will face Democrat former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in the November election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Former Republican state Sen. John Watkins, who spent 34 years in the General Assembly, said he sees Youngkin as a marked improvement over the “far right” candidates the party nominated in some recent years.

Is Critical Race Theory McAuliffe's Kryptonite? Democrats' Missteps Make It Hard to Tell

  Is Critical Race Theory McAuliffe's Kryptonite? Democrats' Missteps Make It Hard to Tell It seemed the Virginia governor's contest would be a test for Republicans seeking to stoke concerns about CRT. But Democratic fumbling may define the race.It also has seemed that the race will serve as a test of whether the GOP's recent efforts to stoke concerns about critical race theory in schools could be used as a strategy to drive victories in the 2022 midterms. On the campaign trail, Republican Glenn Youngkin has attempted to channel anxieties over the issue—and other concerns among suburban school parents—to bolster support.

Watkins said he expects Youngkin will be far more competitive than one of those candidates, conservative provocateur Corey Stewart, who lost a 2018 U.S. Senate race against Tim Kaine by 16 percentage points. Stewart, a onetime state chair of Trump’s presidential campaign, ran as an immigration hard-liner and outspoken advocate of Confederate imagery, lobbed sharp personal attacks against Kaine and ended up shunned by some fellow GOP congressional candidates.

Youngkin won his party's nomination in May after campaigning as a conservative Christian outsider and making “election integrity” a top issue, allowing him to appeal to Trump voters who believed the former president's lie that the 2020 election was stolen. He then mostly pivoted to other issues, promising to cut taxes and support law enforcement, and seizing on conservatives’ frustrations with schools over pandemic policies and race and diversity education.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin ducks under the wing of a small plane to get a look at the cockpit after a rally in Fredericksburg, Va., Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. Youngkin will face Democrat former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in the November election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) © Provided by Associated Press Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin ducks under the wing of a small plane to get a look at the cockpit after a rally in Fredericksburg, Va., Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. Youngkin will face Democrat former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in the November election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

His advertising has sought to portray him as an affable, suburban dad, and he's kept his distance from Trump, who has endorsed him.

Glenn Youngkin makes final pitch to be Virginia's new governor

  Glenn Youngkin makes final pitch to be Virginia's new governor Yougkin promised Virginians in Loudoun County that he would ban critical race theory teachings in schools and that parents would have power over their children's educations.Youngkin, who holds less than a one percent lead over Democrat Terry McAuliffe, took the stage Monday night in the battleground county, which has been the state's epicenter of anger regarding school curricula and policies - in particular, the teaching of critical race theory and rules regarding transgender students.

That hasn't kept McAuliffe, who was in office from 2014 to 2018, from trying to make the case that Youngkin is an extremist who would roll back Democrats' list of legislative accomplishments.

“From the day he got into this race, Glenn Youngkin has run a campaign of hatred, division and fear,” McAuliffe said at a rally Friday.

In just two years in full control of state government, Democrats have instituted transformative public policy changes: reforming the criminal justice system, loosening abortion restrictions, expanding voting access, legalizing marijuana and ending the death penalty.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin, center, speaks to supporters during a rally in Fredericksburg, Va., Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. Youngkin will face Democrat former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in the November election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) © Provided by Associated Press Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin, center, speaks to supporters during a rally in Fredericksburg, Va., Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. Youngkin will face Democrat former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in the November election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Also on the ballot this year are races for attorney general and lieutenant governor, plus all 100 seats in the House of Delegates, where Democrats have a 55-45 majority. The Democrat-controlled Senate is not up this year.

For Democrats, “everything is on the line," said Democratic Party chair Susan Swecker.

Swecker argued that Democrats are better aligned with Virginia's electorate, which has grown more suburban, more educated and more racially diverse. Republicans have moved too far to the right, she said, opposing abortion rights, voting rights and making Virginia “welcoming and open to all."

Trump says 'MAGA movement is bigger than ever'

  Trump says 'MAGA movement is bigger than ever' Trump thanked his supporters Tuesday night and said: 'Glenn will be a great governor.' The ex-president also claims his supporters remain strong and the 'MAGA movement is bigger than ever before.''I would like to thank my BASE for coming out in force and voting for Glenn Youngkin. Without you, he would not have been close to winning,' Trump said in a statement Tuesday night. 'The MAGA movement is bigger and stronger than ever before. Glenn will be a great governor.

Kids watch the proceedings from the roof of a playhouse as Democratic gubernatorial candidate former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks to supporters during a rally in Richmond, Va., Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021. McAuliffe will face Republican Glenn Youngkin in the November election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) © Provided by Associated Press Kids watch the proceedings from the roof of a playhouse as Democratic gubernatorial candidate former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks to supporters during a rally in Richmond, Va., Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021. McAuliffe will face Republican Glenn Youngkin in the November election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

“You’re playing in the corners, and that is not where the people of Virginia are,” she said.

Even if Youngkin turns out to be a pitch-perfect candidate, Republicans face demographic challenges. The party's strongholds in the rural southern and western parts of the state are losing population. And while the state is growing more racially diverse, the Virginia GOP remains overwhelmingly white. In 2020, roughly 87% of all Trump voters in Virginia were white, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of the electorate.

Kids watch the proceedings from the roof of a playhouse as Democratic gubernatorial candidate former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks to supporters during a rally in Richmond, Va., Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021. McAuliffe will face Republican Glenn Youngkin in the November election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) © Provided by Associated Press Kids watch the proceedings from the roof of a playhouse as Democratic gubernatorial candidate former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks to supporters during a rally in Richmond, Va., Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021. McAuliffe will face Republican Glenn Youngkin in the November election. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Youngkin discussed the party's recent losing record in an interview with The Associated Press when asked what led him to politics after retiring from a lucrative career in private equity.

He said he didn't like the direction Virginia was heading under one-party control and saw this year as an opportunity for the GOP to offer “a real challenge.”

Glenn Youngkin won while keeping away from Donald Trump; will other Republicans do the same?

  Glenn Youngkin won while keeping away from Donald Trump; will other Republicans do the same? Expect many GOP candidates to mimic Youngkin in 2022 by embracing Trump's base and populist issues, while keeping their distance from the man himself.Or at least for some Republicans in some states.

“You know the stats. I mean, we haven’t won a statewide election since Bob McDonnell,” he said, a reference to the 2009 governor's race.

One illustration of how Democrats and Republicans have fared in Virginia in recent years is the parties' headquarters.

The Democrats' office is located in a stylish downtown Richmond office building, close to the state Capitol.

The Republicans, meanwhile, have set up shop in a modest building about a mile away on the fringe of downtown, sandwiched between a deli and a hair salon.

“The last four years have been particularly demoralizing,” said Shaun Kenney, a former executive director of the party.

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel disputed any notion that the state party isn't in fighting shape. She said the national party has been investing in the state, with 100 paid staff on the ground and 13 offices opened for the election. But she acknowledged that a victory Tuesday would give state Republicans “a big boost.”

Paul Goldman, a former state Democratic Party chair, said the election will offer insight on how blue Virginia's electorate really is. If McAuliffe is able to overcome a “fresh” candidate with “unlimited” money, then “either Republicans are going to have to change their game or they will only win when the public is really sour on the Democrats," he said.

McSweeney agreed that his party would have a tough road ahead if Youngkin doesn't pull off a victory on Tuesday.

“If Glenn can’t win, then it’s going to be very difficult to win in the future for a number of reasons. But principally because people are not going to be as interested in throwing their resources and energy and time into it," he said.

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Associated Press writer Steve Peoples contributed to this report.

Glenn Youngkin wrote the GOP playbook to navigate the Trump factor. Can it be replicated in 2022? .
With his victory in the Virginia gubernatorial race, Glenn Youngkin wrote a new Republican playbook for keeping Donald Trump's base engaged without alienating the voters who were repelled by the former President in recent elections. © Andrew Harnik/AP Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin greets supporters at an election night party in Chantilly, Va., early Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021, after he defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe. That's despite running against a rival, Democratic former Gov.

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