02  Terry McAuliffe 1013
CNN  — 

Late last month, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said this in a debate with Republican Glenn Youngkin; “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

That single sentence has transformed the governor’s race in the Commonwealth. Youngkin immediately began running ads featuring McAuliffe’s words and has re-organized his entire campaign in these final week around the idea of woke culture and its influence on our kids’ education.

And it’s clearly hurting McAuliffe. How do I know? The Democrat’s campaign is up with a new ad in which he tries to explain himself.

“Glenn Youngkin’s taking my words out of context,” McAuliffe says as images of his own kids flash on screen. “I’ve always valued the concerns of parents.”

It’s Politics 101: You don’t give oxygen to an attack from your opponent unless that attack is working and you feel the need to say something to try to fix the problem.

What the ad makes clear is that McAuliffe is on the defensive in these last weeks before Virginia voters head to the polls. They feel as though Youngkin is making inroads with his attacks on education – and parents’ role in what their kids should (and do) learn – and that they need to stop the bleeding sooner rather than later.

Why does all of this matter? Because the Virginia governor’s race is being closely examined by both national parties for clues as to how to run and win in 2022 and beyond.

And Republicans are convinced that Youngkin has happened upon a winning issue: Woke culture is running rampant – and it’s hurting our kids.

Now, it’s worth noting here that the specific question that spawned McAuliffe’s answer in the debate was about kids being exposed to sexually explicit content at school without their parents’ knowledge.

But campaign politics being what it is, Youngkin has used McAuliffe’s words as a way to broadly indict woke culture.

“This is what big government means for Terry McAuliffe,” Youngkin said at a rally earlier this month. “He not only wants to stand between you and your children. He wants to make government a tool to silence us. This is no longer a campaign. This is a movement. It’s a movement led by parents.”

It’s not entirely clear how much those attacks have moved the needle – at least not yet. McAuliffe has maintained a slim but steady single-digit edge over Youngkin for the last several months in polling and recent surveys don’t suggest the margin is narrowing in any statistically significant way.

But McAuliffe’s decision to launch ads responding to the Youngkin attacks on education are a worrisome sign for Democrats hoping to keep the governor’s mansion in their hands. You never want to be the one responding to attacks this close to an election.

If Youngkin wins, Republicans will likely conclude that campaigns centered around the Democrats’ embrace of wokeness – in the classroom and out in the world – are the key to success in a (for now) post-Trump political world.