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Democrats went with the status quo candidate in Virginia and got what they deserved

Blaming progressives for Virginia going red wouldn’t be honest or wise

Michael Arceneaux
New York
Wednesday 03 November 2021 13:51 GMT
Election 2021 Virginia Governor
Election 2021 Virginia Governor (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The day before we learned the results of Virginia’s gubernatorial election, its senior Senator pinned the blame of the presumed loss for Terry McAuliffe on progressives for not passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill in September.

“I think we could’ve given the president a big win,” Senator Mark Warner said during an interview that aired on MSNBC on Monday. “I gotta tell you, in Virginia, where we’ve got a gubernatorial race tomorrow, that would’ve really helped Terry McAuliffe a lot if we had been able to notch that win.”

Warner managed to say this nonsense with a straight face, but it’s presumably easier for him to pretend bipartisanship matters that much in the post-Trump era of American politics (or ever) than confront valid questions about his candidate and why he struggled to energize the Democratic base in their state.

For the record, President Biden himself didn’t push for a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill in September or October. Based on reporting, it appears Biden was in line with the thinking of progressives that the infrastructure bill and the reconciliation bill are best tethered together. Biden took an active role in the Virginia governor’s race, so if he felt McAulliffe’s fate depended that heavily on the passage of a bill only rich folks on cable news tend to know anything about, one imagines he would have personally pushed for a vote before the election.

As Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal explained to reporters this week: “I’ve watched all the attack ads on Terry McAuliffe and not a single one has talked about the [infrastructure bill] not passing. They’ve all been about other things.”

Those “other things” included issues such as “election integrity” — an obvious appeal to Trump voters who still believe the ex- president’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen by Black people voting in Detroit, Atlanta, Milwaukee, and other cities where lots and lots of Black people live.

However, the biggest issue has been categorized as “education”. In reality, that refers to the way in which McAuliffe’s challenger and the eventual victor, Glenn Youngkin, stoked racial fears by perpetuating the falsehood that “critical race theory” has infiltrated the public school system in the state. It’s evident in the Youngkin ad featuring a mother upset about her child’s English assignment, which we learned was related to Beloved, the novel by the acclaimed author and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison. And it came on the heels of Fox News spending much of this year trying to scare white people about critical race theory (not taught in public schools) through numerous segments.

What Youngkin, a businessman turned political novice, proved in this gubernatorial race is that even the most generic Republican candidate can be competitive in a stateside race by exploiting the prejudices of the electorate. This is not breaking news to anyone who’s paid attention to the Republican Party in the last half-century, but when people like Mark Warner try to pin the blame on progressives, it seems disingenuous at best.

Terry McAuliffe struggled to connect with Black voters from the very beginning because, as some of us recall, he effectively blocked Virginia from potentially making history by electing another Black governor or perhaps the country’s first Black female governor as two women sought the office. In an op-ed about McAuliffe’s choice to run last January, Douglas Wilder, who served as Virginia’s Black governor, wrote: “No Democrat, in recent times, has won an election in Virginia without strong minority votes, as was the case when McAuliffe, who had never been elected to ANY office, was elected governor. Why should he expect that vote to be there for him in 2021 having shown such little appreciation for it?” Last week, Wilder was asked why Black Americans may be reluctant to support McAuliffe and responded: “The better question would be: ‘What reasons do they have to turn out?’”

Near the end of the race, McAuliffe called on a number of national figures to rally Black voters in his state. He also actively called out the racism of Youngkin’s campaign in the final days of the race — but it was too little, too late. Disappointingly enough, McAuliffe launched his campaign on education yet failed to push back satisfactorily on Youngkin’s dog-whistle attacks. That is not the fault of progressives; it is the failure of the candidate.

Democrats need to learn from this defeat, and they need to learn the right lesson.

“One of the strategic advantages that Republicans have is they’re able to feed their base propaganda and misinformation directly through their news outlets,” David Turner, senior strategist at the Democratic Governors Association, said in an interview with The Washington Post.

“The Democratic Party needs to figure out ways to more actively court its base voters on a regular basis,” he continued.

Some of that begins with some politicians learning when to move out of the way. Democrats had a chance to make history, yet opted for the status quo candidate. It got them what they deserved.

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