Joe Biden suffered a bitter political blow in Virginia.
McAuliffe, had campaigned with Biden and Barack Obama but it was not enough to prevent Youngkin pulling off an upset.
The race was effectively the first referendum on Biden’s presidency, one year after he won the White House, and it coincided with his agenda stalling in Congress and his approval rating sinking to 42%.
McAuliffe’s all-out effort to portray Youngkin as an acolyte of Donald Trump proved less effective than the Republican’s laser-like focus on whipping up parents’ fear and anger about culture war issues in Virginia’s schools.
Youngkin made false claims that critical race theory – an analytic framework through which academics examine the ways that racial disparities are reproduced by the law – is rampant in the state’s education system (in fact it is not taught).
His campaign zeroed in on a perceived gaffe by McAuliffe at one of their debates: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
Importantly, Youngkin was also successful walking a political tightrope in which he accepted Trump’s endorsement but never mentioned him in stump speeches or invited him to campaign with him in person. He cultivated sufficient ambiguity to appeal to moderate Republicans without alienating the Trump base.
History was on Youngkin’s side in that the party that loses the White House tends to be energised and usually wins the Virginia’s governor’s race a year later. But McAuliffe himself had bucked that rule when he became governor in 2014 (he was limited to one term).
However, no Republican had won statewide office since 2009, and Biden beat Trump in Virginia by 10 percentage points, meaning that Democrats’ loss here will reverberate across the nation.
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at 10.35pm EDT