Glenn Youngkin’s win in the Virginia governor’s race put parents and education at the center of American politics. Youngkin defeated the Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe, in a state that Joe Biden won by a significant margin only one year before. The Lion asked Youngkin campaign strategist Kristin Davison about the campaign and the significance of Youngkin’s victory for education and politics moving forward.
With a record turnout, Virginia voters elected a Republican candidate in a state-wide election for the first time since 2009—the same state President Joe Biden won by 10 points just one year ago. How did Youngkin turn the tide? What do you make of the Biden voters who swung toward Youngkin?
Governor-Elect Glenn Youngkin won because he believed in and drove a campaign that brought people together – not one that divided them. He ran a campaign focused on “and,” not “or” or “but.” He offered Virginians a positive vision they could rally behind.
That meant our campaign didn’t write any voters off. We took our message to every Virginian – no matter who they voted for in the past. And we didn’t water down our message to do it. The Governor-Elect talked about the issues Virginians were talking about at the kitchen table, and it resonated across all demographic lines. He built a coalition of voters based on lower gas prices, lower grocery costs, better education, and safer communities.
Biden voters crossed over and joined our team because they had the same kitchen table concerns as any other voter. The Democrat candidate, Terry McAuliffe, focused on national talking points and didn’t offer voters solutions to the problems they faced. Terry ran a campaign that tried to divide voters. Glenn ran a campaign that brought people together.
It seems like this race was ‘parents above politics’. What were you hearing from parents on the ground in the lead up to the election?
In January, just a few days after then-candidate Youngkin had launched his campaign, and as parents were struggling with the possibility that their children might not be able to return to school full-time, one father stood up and told the Loudoun County School Board to do their jobs and “figure it out.”
Within 24 hours, Brandon Michon’s earnest cry was heard around the country, and Glenn was asking for Brandon’s phone number. He called Brandon and let him know that if he was elected Virginia governor, there would be someone fighting for him, and for parents across Virginia. In a moment when some would have let a simple tweet suffice, Youngkin took action.
This was at the very start of our campaign. Back in January we were hearing rumblings from parents like Brandon Michon of what would become a parent-driven movement. After a year of having their children learn at home, parents – of all backgrounds, neighborhoods, and political parties – were seeing what their children’s schools were offering. And they demanded better. Parents demanded better standards, better curriculum, and better quality education.
The Youngkin campaign brought together education voters together under the umbrella that parents matter and should have a fundamental role in their children’s education – something our opponent disagreed with strongly.
What does this win mean for parental freedom and choice in education moving forward, not just for Virginia but nationally?
Generally Republicans are on defense on education. Democrats have run a playbook over and over again that attacks Republicans with strawman arguments. In the Youngkin campaign we not only went on offense on education – we did so enthusiastically. We won education voters by six points.
This wasn’t just a debate over education policy. It was a choice between two philosophies – one which gave parents a say in their children’s education and demanded higher standards for young minds, and one which prioritized bureaucrats and politicians who pushed political agendas in the classroom. We’re already seeing this play out across the country. It may have started in Virginia, but it will not stop there.
What surprised you about this race?
I was surprised our opponent never made the race about Virginia. Terry McAuliffe ran a race hitting Donald Trump and reciting DNC talking points, but never really listened to what mattered to Virginia voters.
The teachers union came out in support of Terry McAuliffe. What does the outcome suggest about the impact of teacher’s union endorsements like this?
The power of a parent will supersede the power of a union. We saw parents, teachers, students, all come together to support a movement focused on children, not political agendas. The teacher’s unions never focused on the students – or the teachers, for that matter – but rather, continued to push political priorities. It didn’t resonate with Virginia voters.
Glenn Youngkin rose to power on the backs of parents who want change. What are his plans in office to continue supporting parental choice and otherwise positively impact education in Virginia?
Education is a large component of the Governor-Elect’s Day One Game Plan. It is focused on creating 20 new charter schools, teacher pay raises, rebuilding school buildings, and special education programs. The Day One Game Plan also calls for “restoring high expectations” in education. The Governor-Elect has not stopped for a minute since he was elected and has already hit the ground running. I believe we will see exciting things here in the near future that will greatly benefit Virginia’s children.