At a Tuesday press conference promoted by the Virginia Democratic Party and Terry McAuliffe’s campaign for governor, Richmond mayor Levar Stoney, state senator Louise Lucas, and former delegate Debra Rodman hurled a series of serious —and false — accusations at McAuliffe’s opponent, Republican Glenn Youngkin. The event was marketed by the McAuliffe campaign as being focused on “Glenn Youngkin’s Latest Racist Dog Whistles.”
The press conference was held in response to a new ad released by the Youngkin campaign, which features Laura Murphy, a parent whose concerns led to the passing of bipartisan legislation that would have required parents to be notified of sexually explicit reading material in schools, and allowing them to choose alternative materials. McAuliffe vetoed the legislation during his first stint as governor.
Murphy’s advocacy was sparked by her son’s being assigned Toni Morrison’s award-winning book, Beloved. Her frustration was with the work’s inclusion of violent sex scenes and gang rape, not its being set in the pre-Civil War South.
On Tuesday, the three Democrats tasked with attacking Youngkin nevertheless doubled down on the event’s billing. Stoney started by setting the stage, asserting that Murphy’s inclusion was a “disgusting and gross…racist dogwhistle.”
“Black Virginians know it when they see it, and know it when they hear it. And to me, it’s a racist dogwhistle.” If the ad was indeed a coded message to racist Virginians, it would have taken quite a bit of research to decipher. The video made no mention of Beloved, and did not endorse any effort to ban the book, instead remaining focused on the explicit content and the actual legislation rejected by McAuliffe.
Notably, the Washington Post has debunked McAuliffe’s description of the bill in question. “While the former governor knocked Youngkin for not understanding the basics of the law that was debated, he mischaracterized the bills he vetoed. Neither bill would have allowed parents to ‘veto books’ or ‘take them off the shelves,’ according to the bills and the veto statements issued by McAuliffe at the time,” wrote fact-checker Glenn Kessler after the final debate between the two candidates in September.
Moreover, 18 Democratic lawmakers in the Virginia General Assembly voted for the legislation.
Stoney also charged Youngkin with refusing to condemn “a celebration of the deadly January 6 insurrection that happened in his name.” Youngkin has called the events of January 6 “sickening and wrong” and described pledging allegiance to a flag carried by rioters on that day as “weird and wrong.”
Rodman went next, accusing the Republican nominee of “using our children as political pawns” and decrying his “shameful new ad that promotes book bans.” She also again mischaracterized the issues Murphy raised with Beloved as being about “someone [who] finds our history to be uncomfortable.”
Lucas went even further, stating that Youngkin was motivated by a desire to “silence black authors,” and that he “said he would stand up for” “people who want to ban books about slavery and racism.”
Her claims are contradicted by Youngkin’s own words. The candidate argued on Saturday that “America has fabulous chapters and it’s the greatest country in the world, but we also have some abhorrent chapters in our history, we must teach them.” Before that, he had pledged to oversee an educational system that “will teach all of our history: The good and the bad.”
Asked about the discrepancies between their descriptions of the legislation McAuliffe vetoed and its text, as well as the resulting allegation that Youngkin supported book bans, Stoney and Lucas haggled over who would field the question, with each trying to hand it off to the other. Eventually, Lucas did answer, but the senator was unable to point to evidence of Youngkin supporting bans and instead asserted that the Republican Party generally did.
After entering the race as a heavy favorite, McAuliffe has seen a precipitous drop in the polls, with several recent surveys showing Youngkin either ahead or in a dead heat with the once, and wannabe future governor.
In a statement on Monday, McAuliffe tied together his new, explicit accusations of racism with his ongoing effort to paint Youngkin as a carbon copy of former president Donald Trump. “Youngkin’s closing message of book banning and silencing esteemed Black authors is a racist dog whistle designed to gin up support from the most extreme elements of his party — mainly his top endorser and surrogate, Donald Trump,” he wrote.