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Lessons from Virginia's governor race and what voters really want

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (left) gestures as his Republican challenger, Glenn Youngkin, looks on during a debate at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va., on Sept. 16, 2021. (Steve Helber/AP)
Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (left) gestures as his Republican challenger, Glenn Youngkin, looks on during a debate at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va., on Sept. 16, 2021. (Steve Helber/AP)

Over the last few years, Democratic lawmakers have become increasingly progressive.

For moderate, independent, and swing voters — do they feel like they have a place in the Democratic party?

“It does not feel like the Democrats actually made an attempt to to get us,” one listener says.

Today, On Point: So what do voters really care about? A long-time democratic analyst joins us with the lessons he’s learned from Virginia, and why he’s worried his party refuses to see the bigger picture.

Guests

Ruy Teixeira, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Co-editor of the Substack newsletter The Liberal Patriot. Author of “The Optimistic Leftist.”

Jack Beatty, On Point news analyst. (@JackBeattyNPR)

Also Featured

Heather McGhee, author of “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.”

Show Highlights: 2 voters on how they cast their ballots in the race for governor of Virginia

Democrats believed Virginia was becoming reliably blue. President Joe Biden won there by ten points exactly one year ago. But last week, Republican Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governor’s race, becoming the first Republican to win statewide office in a dozen years.

Below, we hear from Virginia voters who cast their ballots for Joe Biden in 2020, and for Glenn Youngkin in 2021.

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: Mark Farley is an independent. He works in sales. And in the last four presidential elections, he voted for Obama, then Romney, then Trump, then Biden. He also has misgivings about the GOP under the sway of Trumpism, especially after the mob attack on Congress.

MARK FARLEY: I was not happy with Jan. 6th, and I feel that if Trump would have stood up it would have not happened. That really, really lost a lot of credibility with me.

CHAKRABARTI: But when it came time to cast his ballot in the gubernatorial race last week, Farley was motivated by issues much closer to home.

FARLEY: Have you been to the grocery store recently? Oh my goodness. The inflation is out of this world. And wages aren’t going up. So, anywhere — myself, as well as my brothers, and sisters and neighbors — can save to put more on the table at the end of the day for their family is big with me.

CHAKRABARTI: That’s why Glenn Youngkin’s proposal to eliminate Virginia’s grocery tax ultimately helped swing Farley’s vote. Christopher Dombek describes himself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal. He has voted for Republicans and Democrats. This year, the issue that motivated him was:

CHRISTOPHER DOMBEK: Schools are everything. For your property tax, that’s 75% to 80% of your money. And these schools were closed for over a year. People had to quit their jobs … because they have kids that they’re trying to have an elementary school on Zoom all day. And it became difficult for a lot of people.

CHAKRABARTI: Dombek also says he is concerned by what’s taught in Virginia schools when they’re in sessions. But it’s not what you think. He was not distracted by the controversy over critical race theory. In fact, Dombek thinks issues of race should be taught in schools. But what he focused on is what he sees as a disturbing reduction in Virginia’s overall academic standards.

Such as the Virginia Mathematics Pathways initiative, which proposed ending tracking for kids struggling with — or accelerated in — mathematics. Now, the state cited the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics, with quote: ‘Tracking too often leads to segregation and disproportionately impacts minority and low socioeconomic students.’

DOMBEK: The No. 1 goal out of the state for education was to create equity in math. And one of its largest things said 72% of college majors don’t require calculus. And you’re thinking, we live in this area, so people and their kids can take the difficult classes and have a chance to go to a really good school.

And on a state level, you want to remove the advanced classes so you have all ethnicities basically almost scoring a passing rate on math. And it caused a lot of controversy here. And this is not with the MAGA crowd. This is the people who are not upper-middle class, but college graduates who want their kids to go to college. They chose to live and have a long commute in this area specifically for that reason, and you’re taking away the kid’s future.

CHAKRABARTI: There was one more factor for both these voters: how they perceive the tone of Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe’s campaign.

DOMBEK: It’s like there was no making room. There was no accommodation to try to accept people in the Democratic Party. It does not feel like the Democrats actually made an attempt to to get us.

CHAKRABARTI: And Mark Farley says even though he was appalled by the Jan. 6th insurrection — as you heard him say earlier, and the role that Donald Trump played in that — he didn’t like how ads for McAuliffe continually tried to tie Youngkin together with Trump.

FARLEY: It was almost childish, very unprofessional. And I know you’re going to get that in politics. But that was the only messages I heard. Like were just, Oh, you know, we don’t need another Trump. OK, I agree with that. But what are you going to do? What are you going to work on? What are you going to make better? How at the end of the day when I go home to my family, am I going to be in a better situation with you as governor?

CHAKRABARTI: A window into why two potentially Democratic voters in Virginia decided to cast their ballot for a Republican governor instead.

From The Reading List

The Liberal Patriot: “White College Educated Democrats Are Overwhelmingly Liberal, Nonwhite Working Class Democrats Are Overwhelmingly Moderate or Conservative” — “A recent Gallup release confirmed that Democrats now have about as many liberals in the party as moderates or conservatives.”

American Compass: “The Five Deadly Sins of the Left” — “Identity Politics. Retro-Socialism. Catastrophism. Growthphobia. Technopessimism. After 40 years of decline, perhaps it’s time for the Left to try something new.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.