Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe is on defense over his September debate comment that parents shouldn't "be telling schools what they should teach."
McAuliffe released an ad Monday that aims to clean up the controversial remark after Republican opponent Glenn Youngkin highlighted it in a statewide TV spot. In his new ad, McAuliffe accuses Youngkin of "taking my words out of context" and says he's "always valued the concerns of parents."
The response suggests the Democrat is feeling the heat just two weeks out from Election Day in a state President Joe Biden won by double digits. Just days before McAuliffe unveiled the ad, a Trafalgar Group poll showed him trailing Youngkin by 1 point. In that poll, 54 percent of respondents said they disagreed with McAuliffe's debate comment, while just 37 percent said they agree with the remark.
Youngkin responded to the McAuliffe ad, releasing his own video that featured "seven times [McAuliffe] confirmed he thinks parents should have no say in their child's education." Included in the video is a string of post-debate interviews that saw McAuliffe defend his debate comment—during one exchange, the Democrat said "you do not want 25 parents picking books."
According to an October Emerson College poll, McAuliffe—who did not return a request for comment—has particularly struggled with suburban voters as Northern Virginia parents push back against critical race theory in their public schools. McAuliffe in June dismissed concerns over critical race theory as a "right-wing conspiracy" before calling opposition to the controversial curriculum a "racist ... dog whistle."
As governor, McAuliffe vetoed a 2016 bill that would have notified parents if a teacher intended to use "instructional material that includes sexually explicit content." The Democrat defended that decision during his September debate against Youngkin, saying, "I'm not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decision."
McAuliffe also vetoed a number of school choice bills, including one that would let students transfer from underperforming schools. McAuliffe, however, sent his own children to the Potomac School, a private school in McLean where tuition runs as high as $45,650. McAuliffe's wife chaired the school's board of trustees, a 2008 Potomac School alumni magazine shows.
McAuliffe and Youngkin will square off at the polls on Nov. 2.