DANIEL VAUGHAN: It’s McAuliffe’s race to lose, and he’s doing a good job of losing it

Longtime Bill Clinton pollster and political advisor James Carville once said, “The only thing more dangerous than a politician who thinks about re-election, is a politician who doesn’t think about re-election.” In recent history, the politicians who committed this cardinal sin the worst were probably former Republican Representative Eric Cantor, Democratic Representative Joe Crowley, and Martha Coakley. All of them lost their elections after taking their primaries for granted.

A third could be joining them soon, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, running for a second term as governor of Virginia. When you’re watching McAuliffe’s campaign in Virginia, a state he could win before, it’s hard not to see comparisons to the campaign of Democrat Martha Coakley. She’s the candidate who infamously lost to Scott Brown in Massachusetts, ahead of the Affordable Care Act vote.

Coakley’s most disastrous moment, among many, was likely the moment when she decided to fundraise outside the state instead of campaign. When criticized for it, Coakley replied, “As opposed to standing outside Fenway Park? In the cold? Shaking hands?” in an apparent reference to a video showing Brown doing just that. “This is a special election. And I know that I have the support of Kim Driscoll. And I now know the members of the [Salem] School Committee, who know far more people than I could ever meet.”

It’s hard to imagine dissing the Boston Red Sox in the state of Massachusetts, especially in 2010, after Boston had broken its 86 year streak of not winning a World Series. But that’s precisely what she did, and Scott Brown won a victory a few days later, shocking the political world.

McAuliffe’s moment of infamy, thus far, has come during a debate where he said parents should assume no role in what their children learn in schools. “I’m not going to let parents come into schools, and actually take books out, and make their own decision,” McAuliffe said. “Yeah, I stopped the bill that I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

Republican Glenn Youngkin appropriately pounced on that comment, launching a pointed ad campaign in favor of school choice and empowering parents to have a say in their child’s education. The controversy has left McAuliffe reeling and trying to spin his words.

But McAuliffe’s comments underscore how out of touch he and Democrats are on education. For nearly two years now, there’s been a non-stop debate over the effectiveness of public schools and face masks, homeschooling has exploded as an option, and curriculum debates over critical race theory have embroiled the nation’s parents in a non-stop controversy over education.

Democrats are nowhere near caught up on the ground that’s shifted underneath them. The pandemic has increased the ranks of homeschoolers by 2.6 million. Now more than one in ten children is home educated. McAuliffe is still holding a traditional teachers’ unions line at a moment when everyone is fed up with it.

The Washington Free Beacon also learned that the Biden White House was involved with teachers’ unions that seek to call angry parents at school board meetings domestic terrorists. It’s not a great place to be when you’re trying to brand parents as domestic terrorists for having an interest in their child’s education. 

In short, Terry McAuliffe has picked a dreadful moment to suddenly prove he doesn’t understand how the public education debate changed in the last 18-20 months. His obliviousness is next to Coakley on that point.

More amusing on McAuliffe’s front is how he’s deploying Joe Biden to “boost” his gubernatorial campaign. The campaign announced Biden would join McAuliffe in Virginia. Biden’s inclusion is interesting given his plummeting popularity in polls. But when you plug in the address for the event, McAuliffe and Biden are campaigning in a park ten to fifteen minutes, depending on traffic, away from the White House. It’s about as close to Washington DC as you can get, while also geographically still being in Virginia.

McAuliffe is checking a box because he doesn’t want to be seen with Biden by the average voter of Virginia. And Biden doesn’t have the political star power at the moment to matter even a little bit.

Does all this mean Republican Glenn Youngkin will win? Nope. He’s run a brilliant, disciplined campaign, focused on local issues, and hammered at McAuliffe. Even with that, Virginia is a tough nut to crack for Republicans at the moment. Youngkin has two things in his favor at the moment. First, it’s a pro-Republican environment nationally, and Biden’s approval ratings are in the gutter with no likelihood of rebounding in time for voters to change their minds.

And the second thing in Youngkin’s favor is Terry McAuliffe’s campaign, which has more in common with Martha Coakley, Joe Crowley, and Eric Cantor than it does a winning campaign. It’s McAuliffe’s race to lose, for sure. But he’s done a lot to lose, leaving an opening for Youngkin. We’ll find out soon whether or not Republicans can retake the state.