In what could be a referendum on President Biden's agenda and popularity, Virginians are headed to the polls next week to elect a new governor.
Mr. Biden won the state by 10 points, but Democrat Terry McAuliffe holds only a slim lead over his Republican challenger, Glenn Youngkin. Independent voters will be key to deciding the race.
Independent voter Kendra Lee is a prime example of why this race is so close. "I cried when Hillary Clinton lost," Lee said. "If someone told me I'd ever be not considering voting for a Democrat I would have thought you were crazy, you were out of your mind."
And yet, the mother of two voted for Republican Glenn Youngkin. After a year of virtual learning and now mask mandates in schools, she said she trusts him more with her kids' education.
"I don't think he would have as much governmental restrictions," Lee said on Youngkin's appeal. "I think that he would leave it more in terms of local control."
Youngkin, a multimillionaire businessman, has wooed voters like Lee bya central focus of the race — holding "Parents Matter" rallies where he hammers McAuliffe over something he said at a debate: "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach."
"This movement is being led by parents all over the Commonwealth of Virginia, parents who are saying 'no' — I am the one who gets to decide what's best for my children," Youngkin said.
Youngkin has tapped into concern over race and gender issues in schools and he's opposed to both mask and vaccine mandates.
When asked about the mandates, Lee said, "I just feel like I know what's best for my family better than a politician does."
Independent Robert Clarke also voted for Mr. Biden, but calls this decision a toss-up.
When asked what message a Republican winner in Virginia's governor's race would send, Clark said, "That there is some tepidness around the president's agenda. There are a lot of concerns about the choices he's made."
There's concern among some Democrats that a loss in Virginia would be a preview of what's to come in next year's midterms.is trying to make this a referendum on former President Trump.
McAuliffe said Youngkin has a "far-right" agenda, citing caught-on-tape comments about abortion: "When I'm governor...we can start going on offense. But as a campaign topic, sadly, that, in fact, won't win my independent votes that I have to get."
"We cannot go back," McAuliffe said. "He is against gay marriage. He is against a woman's right to choose."
The choice of swing voters like Clarke will likely decide who wins.
"I mean, I would like to imagine that my vote is the deciding one, but it won't be," Clarke said. "I'm just going to go out and vote for what I believe in."
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