Mr Youngkin resoundingly beat Mr McAuliffe, running largely on opposing teaching of “critical race theory,” a niche school of thought that has become a catch-all in the US for teaching about racial inequality and inequities.
“I think this shows some wind in our back and wind into their face,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said.
Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, who has made opposing critical race theory a hallmark of his time in the Senate, said it was a resounding sign that parents don’t want their children to learn about similar subjects.
“Parents don’t want to be treated as the enemy,” he said. “That and the fact that President Biden is really unpopular. I mean you shouldn’t discount that.”
Democrats leaned heavily into tying Mr Youngkin to former president Donald Trump, but that proved to no avail as Republicans sliced into Democrats’ margins in Virginia. Democrats are defending three swing district seats in 2022 in the commonwealth states.
The Senate is currently split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans. The House of Representatives has 221 Democrats and 213 Republicans, with the GOP having made gains in the November 2020 elections.
House minority leader Kevin McCarthy said he was optimistic Republicans would win the majority after the victory on Tuesday.
“We know the places that we can improve and we make this promise to you – we will soon unlock the parents’ bill of rights,” he said.
Mr Youngkin’s campaign largely leaned on an ad that attacked Mr McAuliffe for saying: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Rep Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, who is the leading Republican on the House Education & Labor Committee, specifically said Republicans’ policies were better for parents.
“The left has tried to take education out of the hands of parents, local government and the state for too long,” she said. “This is our answer to the left’s attempt to nationalise education. No, no to leftist indoctrination, no to critical race theory, no to identity politics.”
Senator Rick Scott of Florida, who leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee and is responsible for defending incumbent Republicans and funding challengers, told The Independent it was a good sign for the GOP in 2022.
“We’re gonna take the Senate back. I mean, It’s clear,” he said. “Hispanic voters have rejected socialism and suburban voters have done the same thing.”
Mr Scott, much like Mr Trump, successfully made inroads with Latino voters during his campaigns for governor and Senate. But those wins came at the expense of suburban white voters, who were repelled by Mr Trump, but largely swung not just for Mr Youngkin but also in state legislative races.
Some Democrats have sought to blame progressive members of their party, with senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine both telling reporters that progressive Democrats’ holding up passing an infrastructure bill that passed the Senate in August hurt Mr McAuliffe’s chances. But senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii disputed that idea.
“I’m not going to get into the House’s business and I don’t think that passing bills would be curative to, you know, midterm backlash, but we’re here to pass bills,” he said. “And if we don’t enact legislation, then voters understandably fill in the blanks with the worst-case scenarios and I’ll just note that our slide in popularity coincided with our slide in legislating.”
Mr Schatz also noted how Democrats made progress in New Hampshire, but fewer people pay attention to it because Virginia is adjacent to Washington, DC.
“But I think it’s fair to say people are frustrated with Covid, and are frustrated that our answer to everything was ‘well, you don’t want Donald Trump, do you,’” he said, noting how Democrats ran a successful race last year on getting rid of Mr Trump.
“There’s an old saying in football: you keep running the same play until it stops working, and that’s smart,” he said. “But that play has stopped working and now we need to pass our agenda.”
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