Republican gubernatorial hopeful Glenn Youngkin's education-centered campaign has made significant inroads with suburban Virginia voters who ditched the party in 2020, internal modeling obtained by the Washington Free Beacon shows. His campaign is predicting double-digit gains over former president Donald Trump's performance in suburban Loudoun County and Chesterfield County, margins that would put him on track to win statewide.
Youngkin has catered his education pitch toward Northern Virginia voters in an attempt to erode Democrats' crucial gains in the suburbs, which helped President Joe Biden win the state by double digits. According to a voter model provided by the Republican's campaign, the strategy is paying dividends.
In Loudoun County—where parent groups have made national headlines as they push back against critical race theory in their public schools—Youngkin is on track to perform 14 points better than Trump did in 2020, the model shows. In Fairfax County, meanwhile, support for Youngkin is 7 points higher than Trump's 2020 margin. Biden dominated both counties last year, winning Loudoun and Fairfax by 25 and 42 points, respectively. Youngkin needs to beat Trump's 2020 statewide performance by at least 5 points to win the race.
Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe's recent collapse among voters concerned about education may explain the party's apparent failure to maintain their hold on Northern Virginia. As recently as September, McAuliffe enjoyed a 33-point lead over Youngkin among education-minded voters, a Washington Post-Schar School poll showed. Fast forward just one month, and those voters favor Youngkin by 9 points—a stunning 42-point swing. Education also became the biggest issue in the race during that time, with 24 percent of likely voters identifying it as their top priority in late October, compared to 15 percent a month prior.
McAuliffe's rapid free fall with education voters—and the subsequent rise in those who prioritize the issue—came after the former governor made what could become a race-defining blunder. During a September debate, McAuliffe defended his decision to veto a 2016 bill that would have notified parents of "sexually explicit content" in their children's classrooms by saying, "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach." While Youngkin quickly spread the remark statewide through an ad campaign, he has specifically targeted Loudoun and Fairfax, where parents have vocally opposed critical race theory in their public schools.
McAuliffe has looked to counter Youngkin's education push by attacking the Republican's pledge to ban the controversial curriculum, which he has called a "racist dog whistle." McAuliffe's own education plan, however, is largely recycled. The Democrat's campaign site touts the need to "raise teacher salaries above the national average … for the first time in Virginia's history," a promise McAuliffe also highlighted in his 2009 and 2013 gubernatorial runs but failed to implement during his four-year stint in the governor's mansion.
Youngkin is also running nearly 13 and 14 points ahead of Trump's 2020 performance in Chesterfield and Virginia Beach, respectively, his model shows. Trump lost both areas by less than 7 points last year. McAuliffe's campaign, which canceled a Virginia Beach rally just hours before it was scheduled to begin on Monday, did not return a request for comment.
In addition to McAuliffe's shortcomings on education, Democrats face a turbulent national environment that has torpedoed Biden's standing in the state. With the Biden administration facing massive economic challenges—including unprecedented labor and supply chain issues—65 percent of Americans call the national economy "poor," according to a Monday Associated Press poll. In Virginia, meanwhile, 53 percent of likely voters disapprove of the president's job performance, while 44 percent note they "strongly disapprove."
While McAuliffe has acknowledged the president is "unpopular" in the state, both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris repeatedly campaigned alongside the Virginia Democrat. The decision could backfire—23 percent of likely voters identify the economy as their number-one issue.
Youngkin and McAuliffe will square off at the ballot box on Tuesday. Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.