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Virginia Governor’s Race Tightens as Focus Grows on “Parents’ Rights,” Abortion & Trump

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Image Credit: Twitter: @GlennYoungkin

We look at the Virginia gubernatorial race, where former Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe is facing Republican Glenn Youngkin, the former CEO of a private equity firm. President Joe Biden, who has campaigned with McAuliffe, warns Youngkin is an extremist in the vein of former President Trump. A major point of contention is Youngkin’s push for “parents’ rights” — a catch-all phrase adopted by right-wing opponents of vaccine and mask mandates, transgender rights and critical race theory. Julia Manchester, national politics reporter for The Hill, says that Youngkin has essentially portrayed elected school board officials as “political figures trying to influence Virginia students’ education.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to the closely watched Virginia governor’s race, that pits former Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, against Republican Glenn Youngkin, the former CEO of the Carlyle Group, one of the world largest private equity firms. Vice President Kamala Harris will campaign in Norfolk, Virginia, with McAuliffe today. Former President Trump is planning to hold a tele-rally for Youngkin on Monday. President Biden campaigned with McAuliffe earlier this week and warned Youngkin is an extremist in the vein of former President Trump.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Extremism can come in many forms, can come in the rage of a mob driven to assault the Capitol. It can come in a smile and a fleece vest.

AMY GOODMAN: Youngkin has campaigned, in part, by vowing to support so-called parents’ rights, which has become a catch-all phrase to describe right-wing opposition to vaccine and mask mandates, trans rights for students and critical race theory. There’s even been a firestorm in the race over the teaching of Toni Morrison’s acclaimed novel Beloved in schools.

We’re going to look at that in a moment, but first we’re joined by Julia Manchester, the national political reporter for The Hill, who’s been covering the Virginia governor’s race.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about the issues in these last few days in this race that’s seen as the bellwether for the country about what will happen in the midterm elections next year, Julia.

JULIA MANCHESTER: Well, good morning, Amy.

We’ve seen a number of issues really be centerpieces of both McAuliffe and Youngkin’s campaigns in the closing days of race. As you said, this issue of so-called parents’ rights has become a huge issue for Youngkin, Youngkin very much seizing upon these very tentious and sometime — tensionist and sometimes dangerous school board meetings that we’ve seen in Loudoun County, Virginia, and across the country, very much saying that parents have a right to be involved in their children’s education, that elected school board officials are essentially political figures trying to influence Virginia students’ education; Youngkin very much seizing upon Terry McAuliffe’s comments last month in which he said he did not believe that parents should be involved in a child’s education in the school system; now Terry McAuliffe very much pushing back against that, saying that of course he believes parents should have some say in their children’s education, and very much touting the fact that he launched his campaign on education, pledging to spend $2 billion per year on Virginia public school systems. So, that’s one issue we’re seeing.

We’re also seeing this nationwide issue over abortion rights very much leaking into — or, seeping into this race. You have Terry McAuliffe saying Glenn Youngkin will implement some sort of abortion ban in Virginia similar to maybe that seen in Texas, where abortion is banned after six weeks of pregnancy, so, you know, Terry McAuliffe very much warning Democratic voters about that; Youngkin pushing back, saying that, unlike the Texas ban, he believes in abortion in the cases of rape and incest.

You’re also seeing President Biden and his approval — his own approval rating impacting this race. You know, as the race between Youngkin and McAuliffe has grown more narrow, you’ve seen in Virginia President Biden’s own approval ratings start to tick down. And I think that’s why a lot of Virginia Democrats are closely watching what’s happening on Capitol Hill with Biden’s agenda, hoping for a victory between now and November 2nd, to prove — somehow to prove that, you know, if under Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill they can get that done, they can get the same initiatives done in Virginia.

And finally, President Trump himself is an issue. Despite the fact that he is not on the ballot this year in Virginia and he is not the sitting president, Terry McAuliffe has invoked President Trump’s name quite a bit in this race, maybe just as much, if not more, than Glenn Youngkin’s name, in an effort to tie Glenn Youngkin to Donald Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: And it’s clear — I mean, he hasn’t been out on the campaign trail with him, not sure whose choice it is, but this tele-rally that will be held on Monday. Among the things that Youngkin is willing to openly embrace, calling for the audit of election machines, of course, continuing that lie that the elections were rigged.

JULIA MANCHESTER: Yes, this is something Youngkin has called for ever since he launched his campaign earlier this year. In fact, in February, his campaign launched an election integrity task force. So he’s been very much talking about this.

And he talked about this during the Republican convention much more publicly, because he was trying to appeal to that deep red, maybe pro-Trump conservative base in Virginia. However, now that he’s gotten into the general election against McAuliffe, he has to be careful with how much he embraces Trump and the issue of election integrity publicly, because he’s also trying to appeal to these moderate, more suburban voters, maybe, in some cases, more left-leaning voters or slightly left-leaning voters, trying to peel off some votes from Terry McAuliffe.

But the issue is, President Trump is extremely unpopular in Virginia. He lost Virginia in 2016 and 2020. And part of the reason for that is because the population centers in Virginia, whether that’s northern Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C., Richmond, the Norfolk area, Hampton Roads, those all are incredibly blue-leaning parts of Virginia. Those are the population centers. And mathematically, there’s more Democratic voters in Virginia than there are Republican voters, so this is all about a turnout game. The problem is, there’s more Republican enthusiasm at this moment in Virginia than there is Democratic enthusiasm.

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GOP Efforts to Ban Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” Now at Center of Virginia Governor’s Race

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