Virginia GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin is hammering Democrat Terry McAuliffe‘s comments about limiting parents’ role in education, in hopes of turning out outraged families to vote.
Mr. Youngkin formed an initiative Monday, dubbed Parents Matter, that is seeking to mobilize families and parents to “reject Terry McAuliffe‘s attempts to silence parents and stand between them and their children’s education.”
“Terry McAuliffe showed us his heart when he said that ‘parents don’t matter.’ He immediately disqualified himself from office,” Mr. Youngkin said in a statement. “I believe that parents matter, and I’ll never put government bureaucrats or politicians between parents and their kids. As governor, I’ll empower parents and restore excellence and commonsense in education.”
Mr. Youngkin has weaponized Mr. McAuliffe‘s recent comments since the evening of the final debate in Alexandria last week, when the Democrat stated that he didn’t think “parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
On Saturday, a rally was held in Loudoun County, a state hotbed of parental activism, partly in response to Mr. McAuliffe‘s comments.
The Youngkin campaign has already put out several ads over the week, zeroing in on the comments.
On Friday, the Republican released a campaign ad accusing Mr. McAuliffe of “putting politics over parents.”
Bob Holsworth, a Virginia political analyst, said the Youngkin campaign is likely to keep driving home Mr. McAuliffe‘s comments a month out from Election Day.
“It’s one of those issues they clearly think is working to their advantage,” Mr. Holsworth said. “They think it was a tremendous gaffe of McAuliffe.”
But despite the attacks, Mr. McAuliffe has not walked back his comments, asserting that the state’s Board of Education in conjunction with local school boards have the ultimate authority on curricula.
The McAuliffe campaign responded to Mr. Youngkin‘s tactics by highlighting polls that have the Democrat ahead, and attacking the Republican on his plan to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A recent poll of Virginia voters showed parents support Terry over Glenn by nearly double digits because they know Terry is the only candidate who will keep their kids safe in schools and has a plan to invest in their education,” said Renzo Olivari, spokesman for Mr. McAuliffe.
Mr. Olivari said Mr. McAuliffe is the only candidate “with a real plan to end this pandemic, keep kids safe, and give every Virginia child a world-class education,” while also referring to Mr. Youngkin as an “anti-vaccine advocate.”
Richard Meagher, a political science professor at Randolph-Macon College, said Mr. McAuliffe‘s comments are likely to be taken out of context, despite technical accuracy in saying parents ultimately don’t determine what schools teach.
“In terms of rhetoric and the way he phrased it, he kind of stepped into something he really would’ve been better off avoiding,” Mr. Meagher said. “He’s reminding voters, particularly Republican voters who are angry about schools to begin with, that that’s a big issue that they care about.”
Whether Mr. Youngkin‘s strategy is going to help turn out voters is yet to be seen, though Mr. Meagher argues that his counter message may motivate some Republicans on the fence for the candidate.
“I can’t see it having a huge effect,” Mr. Meagher said. “But, if you believe this is going to come down to the wire, then any little bit of motion, in terms of mobilizing voting would help.”
Mr. McAuliffe still leads in polls, according to recent numbers released by Monmouth University last week.
The Democrat carried 48% of the vote, compared with Mr. Youngkin‘s 43%.
The poll, conducted from Sept. 22-26, surveyed a random sample of 801 Virginia voters with an error margin of +/-3.5%.
Election Day is Nov. 2, but early voting is underway in Virginia.