Hoping to retake both houses of Congress in elections a year from now, Republicans plan to follow a strategy Glenn Youngkin used to win Virginia’s governor’s race, making schools the front line in U.S. culture wars, several lawmakers said on Wednesday.
Youngkin, a former Carlyle Group Inc chief executive, defeated former Governor Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday, partly by focusing on – and fueling – parental anger over the way schools have addressed race and gender and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The approach belies the criticism Republicans faced under former President Donald Trump for seeking cuts in education and trying to pay for a proposed Trump border wall with Mexico using funds budgeted for schools and childcare centers.
Several leading Republicans said on Wednesday they valued a campaign message aimed at parents.
“The one thing you will find is, the Republican Party will be the party of education,” said House of Representatives Republican leader Kevin McCarthy. He said House Republicans would soon roll out a “parents’ bill of rights.”
Republicans have been heartened by Youngkin’s victory in Virginia, a state that has drifted toward Democrats in recent years, and by strong Republican performances in other states on Tuesday.
Democrats hold razor-thin majorities in both the U.S. House and Senate. Historical trends and President Joe Biden’s flagging poll numbers give Republicans an advantage in next year’s contest to determine which party controls Congress.
McCarthy predicted that more than 70 Democrat-controlled House seats will be competitive next year.
Youngkin latched onto concerns from parents that schools are teaching left-wing ideas to fight racism at the expense of more traditional subjects.
He vowed to ban the teaching of “critical race theory,” a legal framework that examines how racism shapes U.S. laws and policies. Virginia school officials say critical race theory as a subject is not taught in classrooms.
Republicans also tried to direct anger over schooling at Biden’s emerging $1.75 trillion social-spending and climate-change legislation, which offers universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds.
“Democrats should listen to the voters. Drop this reckless taxing and spending spree,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a floor speech on Wednesday.
Democrats dismissed the Republican rhetoric.
“Republicans can say it shows Democrats are overreaching, and Democrats can say it shows we should have enacted this prior to the election and run on it,” said Democrat Senator Chris Murphy. “Everybody has an easy spin here.”
Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito said the Youngkin message on education resonated with parents who became immersed in schooling issues during months spent at home with their children during the COVID-19 pandemic.