Eyes on Virginia

In the parking lot of the small aerodrome in Fredericksburg, in the heart of Virginia, Jim Wilson, a smoking pipe stuck between his teeth, wanted to talk about the weather, Saturday morning, while hoisting a huge American flag in the back of his pickup .

“Yes, the winds are favorable for Glenn Youngkin, dropped this member of the political organization of the Republican candidate for governor expected by a hundred supporters in this rural corner of the state for a final political rally before the vote next Tuesday. Voters are mobilized. The enthusiasm is there. And the message we are going to send is going to be clear. “

In this part of the country, where key elective positions have been held by Democrats for nearly ten years and where Joe Biden won in 2020, against Donald Trump , with a comfortable lead of 10 points, the race for succession Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, should have been a formality.

But for weeks now, the vigor of the Republican camp in Virginia, less than a year after the Democrats took office in Washington, have instead made it a national issue, fueled by polls that show conservative Youngkin neck and neck. -now with Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe.

The latest measure of opinion, unveiled Saturday by Roanoke College, gave 48% of voting intentions to McAuliffe, a small lead of one point over the Republican, supported by 47% of voters in the state .

Mathematics, located within the margin of error, which partly captures the dissatisfaction of voters with the Biden government which came to the head of the country last January and whose tumultuous first months in power could thus be sanctioned by this election. The uncertainty of the outcome also captures the strength of the scarecrow Trump on the American political scene.

The former president gave his support to the Republican candidate, thus foreshadowing difficult years, in the event of Youngkin’s victory, both for the Republicans, who will have to continue to live with this divisive figure whose influence seems to survive the attempt coup that his troops orchestrated on January 6, only for the Democrats. One year away from the mid-term elections, the latter could see in this vote the first tones announcing a possible return in force of the conservative ideology in the legislative apparatus of the country.

“This is going to be a difficult election, because we are going through a difficult period,” summarized last week, Paul Friedman, general manager of Safer Country, an NGO which advocates tighter gun control in Virginia, met in a rally organized policy for Terry McAuliffe in Alexandria, south Washington. The pandemic has been slowed down, but not stopped. The ideological divisions persist on the wearing of the mask, on the vaccination, which is absurd, but politically promising for the Republicans. Elected officials are also held responsible for a deteriorating economy, the rising price of gasoline, and which voters could take into account when voting. “

And he adds: “In this context, the defeat of McAuliffe is not possible. And that is why we are working hard on the ground to mobilize the democratic vote and ensure a more progressive, fairer future for everyone in our country ”.

Local vote, national vote

Signs of concern in the Democratic camp are noticeable and openly expressed by Vice President Kamala Harris, who came to lend a hand to Terry McAuliffe in Norfolk in the south of the state on Friday evening. Here, in a region whose local economy depends largely on the military bases which are strongly established there, the images of the chaotic withdrawal of the American forces from Afghanistan during the summer, shook some political certainties and comforted d ‘others.

“The translators we abandoned there worked for the guys here,” said Joseph, a retired long-time Republican, indignantly, seated with his wife, Michelle, in the driveway of an opulent residence in a coastal district of the city, near its huge bus-caravan. It is a disaster that everyone has talked about and which shows an incompetence that must be got rid of. “

“What will happen in Virginia on Tuesday will determine what will happen in the country in 2022 [during the midterm elections] and in 2024 [during the next presidential election]”, hammered the vice president in front of a floor of a thousand Democrats who came to support McAuliffe who is seeking a second term as governor after having held the post between 2014 and 2018. It was the second time that the vice-president interfered in this campaign in which Joe Biden and Barack Obama also took part in the last days, to mobilize the Democratic vote.

“The power is in your hands. Each of you will have the opportunity to choose the next governor, she added, but also the direction in which the country will go. “

The guardian of morality

For Glenn Youngkin, this direction should above all be conservative and driven by the moral concerns on which the former high-ranking officer of the Carlyle group, an investment fund close to the Republican establishment, has been successfully counting since the start of his campaign. In three weeks, he reduced the initial gap that the polls gave him with the Democrat, from 3 points to less than 1 point.

The man is opposed to vaccination and the wearing of compulsory masks. Last February, at a forum of Republican nomination contestants for governor, he supported the idea that massive electoral fraud brought Joe Biden to power. A lie still fueled by Donald Trump even if it has been dismantled for almost a year by dozens of audits across the country, including those conducted by the Republican camp.

Youngkin also pledged to bring order to schools in the state – which he accuses of being under liberal rule – by, among other things, giving parents more power over the content of public school education programs. One of his commercials gives voice to a mother offended by the presence of the book Beloved, by Toni Morrison, in her son’s school. This 1988 Pulitzer Prize novel, which recounts the violence of America’s slavery past, has for years become the pet peeve of ultraconservatives, who seek to remove it from school libraries, under the pretext of scenes that are too violent and sexually explicit. According to them.

Paradoxically, even if he was dubbed by Donald Trump, Glenn Youngkin stayed very far from the former president throughout his campaign, avoiding showing himself by his side, so as not to reduce his chances of success, believes Jason Ross Arnold, Director of the Department of Political Science at Virginia Commonwealth University. “In Virginia, Youngkin is more popular than Donald Trump,” he said in an interview with Le Devoir. His campaign sought to reach out to Trump’s electoral base, yes, but while also presenting a candidate who could cast a wider net, avoiding comparison. “

A delicate exercise for the Republican who for weeks has been portrayed as the populist’s alter ego , a ”  baby Trump,” to be afraid of, the Richmond Free Press editorial wrote last week while pleading with them. voters to move in large numbers to block him next Tuesday.

“That’s not what’s going to happen,” said Larry Norton, health care worker and Youngkin supporter, who came to listen to him in Fredericksburg on Saturday. He is going to win, neither because of Trump nor thanks to him, but because he wants what more and more Virginians want: to find a state where he will once again have a good life. “

This report was partly funded with support from the Transat- Le Devoir International Journalism Fund .

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