Virginia Lessons for California Republicans and Democrats

November 4, 2021 Updated: November 4, 2021


Formerly a strong Republican state, in recent years Virginia has become a lot more like California, with a solid Democratic majority. Yet on Tuesday, Republican Glenn Youngkin beat a former Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, who has conceded.

In early counts, Republicans were ahead in two more statewide victories. Winsome Sears leads Hala Ayala for lieutenant governor. And for attorney general, Jason S. Miyares leads two-time incumbent Mark R. Herring.

There are lessons for both parties over the issues involved.

1. Don’t take anybody for granted. According to AP, in the 2020 election, college-educated and Latino voters in Virginia went heavily for Joe Biden over Donald Trump. But in 2021, “Youngkin fared slightly better than Trump did in 2020. Youngkin was backed by 45% of college educated voters in this year’s election; in 2020, 38% went for Trump. … Youngkin also appeared to make inroads with Latino voters, who were closely divided between McAuliffe and him.”

Although Youngkin is white, the Republicans also ran a diverse slate. Miyares is Latino. Sears is a black woman, immigrant from Jamaica and U.S. Marine Corps veteran. Writing in the Arizona Republic, columnist Elvia Diaz warned, “The lesson here? The Latino vote is up for grabs and Democrats better start courting them now—otherwise, prepare to lose just like in Virginia.”

2. Don’t experiment on children. In a debate, McAuliffe said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” That immediately catapulted Youngkin on an upward trajectory in the polls. Another controversy arose over parental objections at Loudoun County School Board meetings over teaching Critical Race Theory and the response to assaults on two girls in school restrooms.

This has direct application in California, where several education-reform initiatives are being considered for the November 2022 ballot. One is the Educational Freedom Act Initiative, which on Oct. 13 received the go-ahead from the Attorney General’s office to begin collecting signatures. According to proponent Mike Alexander, chair of Californians for School Choice, “Students would be able to attend any accredited private or religious school of their choice and save any money left over for college, vocational training or other qualified expense.”

3. Voters want new faces. McAuliffe, a former governor, is 64. But he was the Clintons’ hand-picked chairman of the Democratic National Committee way back in the 1990s and long has been associated with them. The Clintons are in their mid-70s. President Joe Biden is 78. Among California politicians, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 81. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is 88.

Although Youngkin is 54, getting new faces also is a Republican problem. Trump is 75. In California, Larry Elder, the top vote-getter among those hoping to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom (age 54) in the recent recall, is 69. John Cox, who lost to Newsom in 2018, is 66.

4. The 2020 election is over. Trump lost Virginia by 10 points. But that was a year ago. McAuliffe and Democrats kept bringing up Trump and his contention, along with many supporters, that the 2020 election was “rigged.” Youngkin, although accepting Trump’s endorsement, basically finessed the former president, moving on to Virginia’s problems today.

In the recent recall election, Gov. Gavin Newsom kept branding Elder as a California Trump. That seems unlikely to work next year. New time. New issues. Even if Trump runs again in 2024, that will be a new age. Three years is a long time nowadays. Remember how things were in 2018, pre-COVID?

5. Crime is back as an issue. The recent jumps in crime almost everywhere have brought back an issue that has been of lessening importance the past 20 years as crime fell. In his victory speech, Miyares, the Virginia candidate for attorney general, promised, “On day one, we’ll work toward a safe and secure Virginia and ending the criminal first, victim last mindset. Virginia has spoken—we want safe streets, we want our police to be well trained and supported in the community—and we want the rule of law respected. I intend on delivering on my campaign promises.”

San Francisco has decriminalized shoplifting, leading to the closures of numerous drug and convenience stores. Some neighborhoods are hiring private police to patrol the streets. In Los Angeles, homicides jumped 37 percent last year, and 60 percent so far this year.

6. It’s not just Virginia. Also on Tuesday, voters may have given the victory to another Republican, Jack Ciattrelli, over incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy in New Jersey. The numbers remain too close to call. In 2020, Trump lost the Garden State by 16 points, even more than that 10-point margin in Virginia.

Ciattarelli campaigned on loosening Murphy’s California-style harsh COVID mandates, cutting taxes and fighting crime. Even if he loses in the end, the challenger’s surprise showing indicates Virginia was no fluke.

Conclusion. The benefit of these odd-year elections is they tee-up the issues for the even-year campaigns. Sometimes it matters, sometimes it doesn’t. The issues debated in 2019 dissolved once COVID hit. But this time, it’s likely the issues listed above will prove instructive to both Republicans and Democrats.

After all, it’s a supposed to be a democracy, where elections push the politicians in the directions the voters want.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

John Seiler
John Seiler is a veteran California opinion writer. He has written editorials for The Orange County Register for almost 30 years. He is a U.S. Army veteran and former press secretary to California State Sen. John Moorlach. He blogs at