Virginia 2021 Election Going To Look More Like 1980, 1994, 2010 Or None Of The Above?

Is Virginia 2021 Election Going To Look More Like 1980, 1994, 2010 Or None Of The Above?, Econospeak, Barkley Rosser, October 26, 2021

In Virginia there is an election for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and the whole House of Delegates, while the State Senate with a slight Dem majority is not up for election, is a week from today on Nov. 2, although early voting has been going on for some time.  The latest polls show a dead heat for governor between Dem Terry McAuliffe, who served previously to the current Dem governor, Ralph Northam, and “outsider GOP businessman, Glenn Youngkin, 46%-46%.  House of Delegated currently 55-45 Dem-GOP, but Dems only took majority in 2019, and it would take only six seats to switch back to switch back party control of it.  I fear the energy is on the GOP side and that as in 1980, 1994, and 2010, the GOP will do better than expected with a bigger turnout than reportedly apathetic and complacent Dems. I fear a combination of what went down in those three years, plus some new local bad stuff.  While it is not all of it, part of what is going on is a drag from declining support for Biden at the national level.

The 1980 comparison looks more like relevant to the national issues: many are now comparing Biden to Jimmy Carter, who may be “beloved” now, but got clobbered by Reagan, with the Dems unexpectedly losing the Senate, with some longstanding Dem senators losing unexpectedly, such as George McGovern of SD and Gaylord Nelson of WI, who had founded Earth Day ten years earlier. Carter had lost standing on foreign policy with the Iran hostage crisis and also on the economy with rising inflation associated with surging oil prices.  Well, Biden has taken a big hit on the messiness of the US exit from Afghanistan, even if it was the right thing to do, although he does not seem to be hurting for his failure to renew the Iran nuclear deal, which I consider to be something much worse.  And indeed inflation is up, with oil and gasoline prices a major part of it, with consumers always paying much more attention to gasoline and food prices (which are also up) than justified by the percentage of spending they take up.  But people see them and feel them, and I hear people especially complaining about gasoline prices, which have been especially shooting up just in the last couple of weeks.

Curiously in other ways the economy is looking pretty good. The unemployment rate in Virginia is down to 3.8%, with only two other periods briefly seeing lower than that, right around 2000 and just before the pandemic hit at end of 2019 beginning of 2020. People are quitting jobs to look for others, the state’s budget is in surplus, the Dow Industrial stock average just hit another record high.  But somehow an inflation rate of 5% after years at 2% has the economy as Number One issue in VA, with people unhappy about it, this not helping McAuliffe at all.

The comparison with 1994 is less obvious, although one comparison regards lying about the economy by the GOP.  Newt Gingrich and crew had unanimously opposed the Clinton tax increase, and they ran on it, predicting that it would bring about a recession.  Of course there was no recession, although I have never to this day heard Gingrich or any of them admit that, or to the extent they do they claim the only reason there was no recession was because they took control of the House of Representatives in that 94 election.

As it is Youngkin ads mentioning the economy, while accurately noting the high gasoline prices and increased inflation also add false claims that the economy is losing jobs and the budget is in deficit.  They are not being seriously or effectively challenged on these false claims.

Of these three, although there are these apparent similarities between Carter and Biden, I think the 2010 election offers closer comparisons, and also involve specifically Virginia issues, although some of these could go national in 2022 or even 24, and the GOP hopes so if they bring victory next week here.  The pandemic issue is probably a wash and has slipped to third place, with the economy in second place.  It is what has moved into second place that has me bothered and worried: education.

The big issue in 2010, although there was a subtext of anti-Obama racism, was “Obamacare,” the ACA. We then saw the Tea Party showing up at town hall and county board meeting and local meetings by Congressional reps engaging in disruptions and complaining about all sorts of supposedly terrible things about ACA, all of which were just plain false. One of these was the ludicrous “death panels.” claim.  This was so off the wall it is not even worth discussing other than to note it is a long time since anybody has mentioned that. None of those who were yelling and screaming about that then has a word to say about it now, when indeed ACa has become quite popular as people figured it out. It was always known the pieces of it were individually popular, but putting it all together and calling it “Obamacare,” well, then it was unpopular. The other big item regarding it was simply the charge that it was “socialism” or “bringing socialized medicine,” which was always absurd given that it was originally a proposal that came out of GOP think tanks like the Heritage Foundation to contrast with single payer.  Indeed, it was partly because of its supposed GOP support, with Romney putting a version of it into place in MA as governor, that he pushed it. But they all opposed it, like the GOP and tax increases in ’94, then lied about it, and got away with it, taking Congress that year, both houses.

So the hothouse issue being wildly misinterpreted but has the GOP troops out in full frenzy while Dems wallow in thinking that Virginia has “become a Blue state,” is indeed K-12 education and local school boards, with several issues showing up there.  As in 2010 with the Tea Party we have had groups of loud and disrupting people showing up at school board meetings, in many places repeatedly, and making various demands.  In contrast to 2010, some of these people have engaged in threatening the lives of school board members and harassing them at their homes.  AG Garland has suggested the FBI should investigate these death threats, but Youngkin ads suggest this is the FBI “suppressing free speech of parents.” The issues complained about have included Criticial Race Theory (not taught in the schools, but it must be banned according to Youngkin), mask mandates, although Youngkin has not pushed on that one much, and then supposed dirty books in libraries, with Youngkin having an ad showing a mom complaining about such a book that upset her daughter without naming the book (which turns out out to be Toni Morrison’s Beloved), and then keeping trans students out of bathrooms.  Polls show public support for mask mandates, but the CRT matter and this trans one seem to be getting mileage with female independent voters in the suburbs, the ultimate swing voters.

It does not help that there has just been a case of a “boy” who supposedly was wearing a skirt sexually assaulting a girl in a high school bathroom in Northern Virginia, with him being found guilty just today, with him apparently having done it at another school as well. Not clear he is actually trans, but the claim is he is “gender fluid,” and the GOP and Youngkin are just running hard with this one, pounding it hard in ads.

Then we also have McAuliffe blundering in their second debate and saying “I oppose parents telling schools what to teach.” As it is his statement was completely reasonable and defensible in context, but the Youngkin people have taken that statement and put it into the most frequently played ads.  It has gained traction by dominating the conversation and forcing McAuliffe to run ads defending his record on education.  This is dominating the discussion, not the good record on mandates and Covid of Gov. Northam, not how Youngkin resembles Trump, or how Youngkin opposes abortion, all of which a majority of Virginians supposedly agree with him on. But nobody is paying attention.

And Youngkin is pulling off a delicate balancing act.  Despite separating himself a bit from hardline Trumpism, such as accepting that Biden won in 2020, much to Trump’s annoyance, he has managed to retain the support of the Trumpist base, who are really keen on winning after losing control here and not winning a statewide election since 2009.  They are forgiving him for his minor indiscretions and all hot for him, worked up by all these cultural issues of race and homophobia, etc.  But he has also been managing to come off as at least a semi-moderate, the outsider businessman who can appeal to moderate suburban voters around Richmond (perhaps the bottom line key) as well as in Northern Virginia, especially those independent female voters who somehow seem to be taken by this education push, even if the details of all that are as ridiculous as the Tea Party whines about ACA in 2010. So, I am worried.

Barkley Rosser