Editor’s Note: Alice Stewart is a CNN political commentator and former Communications Director for Ted Cruz for President. The opinions expressed here are her own. View more opinion at CNN.
A great win for the Grand Old Party could be a bad omen for Democrats. Republican Glenn Youngkin picked up momentum at just the right moment to defeat Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia governor’s race. This election could well foreshadow disaster for Democrats in next year’s midterm elections .
Here’s what Youngkin got right and McAuliffe got wrong:
Being a political newcomer, running against a candidate with 95% name ID, Youngkin began the general election with his work cut out for him. The campaign invested heavily in introducing the affable businessman to the people of Virginia. People need to know that you care before they care what you know. Even during the virtual era of Covid campaigning, he showed genuine concern for the people of Virginia.
Youngkin wisely took the Goldilocks approach when it comes to Trump; not to close, not too far, just the right distance. Youngkin didn’t disavow the former president, but he didn’t lock arms either. This allowed the campaign to tailor its message to Trump’s base as well as independent voters in the suburbs.
As many Republican candidates have learned, if you poke the Trump bear, he punches back.
The Republican multi-millionaire kept a focus on the economy and pocketbook issues. Facing the rising prices of fuel and food, people wanted relief. Youngkin vowed, on day one, to suspend the state gas tax and repeal the grocery tax.
Terry McAuliffe’s biggest mistake – hands down, without a doubt – was alienating a vital bloc of the electorate: parents.
During a debate in September, McAuliffe said he didn’t “think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Whatever the context, the message voters heard was that he was, in essence, sidelining parental involvement in education.
The Youngkin campaign quickly seized the opportunity to own the education debate. He touted his plan for investments in education, empowering parents, and opening schools in this post-peak-Covid era. Ultimately, parents who felt silenced spoke out for Youngkin on election day.
Equally damaging, McAuliffe and the Democrats wasted valuable time and resources on campaigning against Donald Trump and falsely linking Youngkin to the former president. This strategy was a costly miscalculation.
Virginia voters realized Trump was not on the ballot. Many didn’t want to hear about the Democrats’ hatred of the former president, they wanted to hear about issues that directly impacted their lives and their livelihood.
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It didn’t help McAuliffe that President Joe Biden’s approval rating was at 42% on Election Day, according to CNN’s Poll of Polls average.
McAuliffe even acknowledged that the President was unpopular in Virginia. So it’s no surprise a campaign visit from the commander in chief did not move the needle.
Republicans now have a field-tested framework for how to avoid landmines in the post-Trump era. If Democrats don’t course correct, we could see a red wave in the 2022 midterms.