Minnesota GOP eyes ‘Virginia model’ for midterm success

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Minnesota Republicans can’t stop talking about Virginia.

That’s because Republicans in Virginia last fall did exactly what the Conservatives are trying to do in Minnesota in November: overthrow the Democratic-controlled House and sweep the statewide races in a Blue-tinged state that swung decisively for Joe Biden in 2020.

“The same issues that affected people in Virginia affect people here,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, who could become House Speaker if his party flips the House in November. “It really is an environment where Republicans could make unprecedented historic gains in Minnesota.”

The “Virginia model” is being talked about by the field of Republican gubernatorial candidates and in memos from national groups targeting Minnesota’s legislative elections this fall. They hope to replicate Republican Glenn Youngkin’s message in the Virginia gubernatorial race focused on the economy, public safety and more parental controls in classrooms to win races up and down the ballot.

Minnesota Democrats are heeding national headwinds and warnings from Virginia, but point to differences between the two states and in messages coming from candidates. For the Virginia model to work in Minnesota, Republicans must penetrate Minnesota’s increasingly blue suburbs, a dynamic that has kept them out of power in the State House since 2018 and from all state offices since 2010. .

“Youngkin spent most of his time running away from controversial issues,” Minnesota DFL party chairman Ken Martin said. “The Republican candidates for governor of Minnesota are running towards them.”

Both Virginia and Minnesota strongly backed Biden against Trump in 2020, and at the time of the Virginia election last fall, Democrats were in power in the governor’s office and in control of the State House, similar to Minnesota. In both states, Democrats have dominated statewide races for the past decade or more.

“Virginia, like Minnesota, is a state that too often turns blue but can favor Republicans if the candidate, the circumstances and the timing are right,” GOP gubernatorial candidate Neil Shah said in a statement. recent email to supporters.

He is one of more than half a dozen Republican candidates aiming to run against DFL Governor Tim Walz this fall, most of whom have compared themselves to Youngkin at some point in the race. Shah, a dermatologist who runs his own practice, said he was a businessman and an outsider like Youngkin.

Republican gubernatorial candidates and the senses. Michelle Benson and Paul Gazelka said they were focusing on the same message as Youngkin. Gazelka has put her name to tough-on-crime legislation on Capitol Hill this year, and the two senators are proposing bills to give parents easier access to school programs.

But in Virginia’s endorsement process, Youngkin was able to win as the unknown candidate and not the most conservative, because Republicans in the state use voting by choice. In Minnesota, GOP party activists are holding ballots until a winner emerges.

“In Virginia, if you have a ranked vote, you can say, ‘I like this hyper-conservative candidate, but I can live with someone a little more moderate,'” said Dan McGrath, an agent longtime Minnesota DFL. “In Minnesota, the Republicans do not allow themselves that choice. They have always chosen a candidate far more to the right than the electorate has found acceptable.”

Scott Jensen, a physician and former state senator, is a frontrunner in the race for governor whose rise has been propelled by a platform of questioning the state’s response to COVID-19. If he wins the party’s endorsement in May, McGrath said Republicans will struggle to follow Youngkin’s model.

“Youngkin had to define himself to the electorate as an outsider. … Scott Jensen is not that,” McGrath added. “He planted a flag which is well on the right.”

In strategy briefs from the National Democrats, they said part of the problem in Virginia was Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe, a former governor who said during a debate that parents shouldn’t tell schools what to teach. The comment upset some parents frustrated with nearly two years of mostly distance education.

Minnesota Republicans drew comparisons between McAuliffe and Walz, who closed classrooms to slow the spread of COVID. But Democrats say Walz, a former schoolteacher, has a strong record supporting classroom funding and his response to COVID-19 will be an asset in critical suburbs.

“The conversation around the classroom is meant to ignite the base,” said Richard Carlbom, a DFL consultant. “It’s red meat for the delegates, less so for the undecided voter in November.”

Republicans say the political environment has only improved for them since Virginia, with Biden’s poll numbers falling further since then.

A Virginia memo from the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), which is working to overthrow state legislative chambers, describes an early strategy of recruiting women and minority candidates from suburbs that fit their district, coupled with a disciplined message about parental choice in schools, delinquency and economics.

Republicans flipped seven seats in Virginia last fall. Minnesota Republicans need to win four seats to take control.

“There are a few places where we won in more rural seats, but really the battleground was in the suburbs,” said RSLC communications director Andrew Romeo. “Suburban voters currently care about the set of issues that Republicans prioritize.”

John Rouleau, executive director of the Republican-aligned Minnesota Jobs Coalition, said Republicans have an opening on education in the suburbs. But he warned candidates not to talk only about critical race theory, an academic concept that has become a catch-all Republican term for equity efforts.

“Youngkin won on general class issues,” Rouleau said. “It all boils down to more involvement, more say in their children’s education, whatever that individualized thing is that drives every parent to want to be involved.”

Marissa Luna, executive director of the Democratic-backed political fund Alliance for a Better Minnesota, said Republicans were targeting the same issues in Virginia, but their tone was more divisive. Voters reject this approach.

She brings up Minnesota’s last election, the same day as Virginia, when suburban voters rejected many school board candidates running on a platform of anti-masking and criticizing race theory.

“They are alarmist and talk in a very controversial way about schools, crime and the economy,” she said. “It’s more about trying to scare people and less about finding solutions to problems right now that will actually make life better.”

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