The eyes of the nation are on Virginia this week, the word “bellwether” ringing all over the cable news networks. But even before the election got hot, Northern Virginia specifically was making headlines for its chaotic school board meetings, filled with debates over the existence of critical race theory in curriculums, among numerous other culture-war topics.
Fox News in particular has focused in on the turmoil and how it could impact not just the Virginia race, but the evolving partisan landscape nationwide. In the run-up to the election, we spoke with Fox News anchor Bret Baier about why that is, and what he’ll be watching for on Tuesday night as he co-hosts with Martha MacCallum an election special focused on the Virginia and New Jersey results.
I understand you have a connection with Northern Virginia, as the former Pentagon correspondent for Fox News. Does that impact your perspective?
I’ve got a bunch of friends in McLean and all kinds of different places in Virginia. So sure, there’s a tie. And it’s always interesting to watch Virginia, come election time. It has been an interesting bellwether, purplish state–maybe purplish blue in recent elections, but it can sway.
And it’s going to be fascinating to watch this Tuesday. We have a likely voter poll where likely voters shifted dramatically in Youngkin’s favor, just in the past week. And so we’ll see how the contours of this race line up over the weekend and into Tuesday. But clearly, there’s some momentum on the Republican side, and Northern Virginia will be the determining factor on the Democratic side.
What are the most critical factors shaping the race?
Our latest poll says education is a big deal. And for Youngkin voters, they say Youngkin will do much better on education. And overall, it breaks towards Youngkin on that issue.
NoVA school board meetings have become somewhat infamous for the media spectacle they create. As a journalist, how do you separate sincere parents from attention-seekers?
Well, we actually send reporters to board meetings and actually cover the substance of the meetings, as opposed to just the political back-and-forth about it. So we’ve invested reporters on the ground in Loudoun County and other places to actually talk to parents. I mean, real parents: They’re not fake political parents. They’re just real parents who have concerns about their children and their schools.
I don’t think–if you’re asking that it’s somehow planted outrage–I think these are real parents with concerns about what their kids are being taught, and the decisions made by the government and the school boards have an effect. And then add to that when Terry McAuliffe stepped in saying, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools how to teach the children,” that line itself, obviously, lends itself to a Youngkin ad that became viral, and it went beyond Virginia.
I feel like I see more stories popping up on Fox News in general about Northern Virginia schools. Do you think other networks neglect the issue?
I don’t focus a lot on what the other networks do or don’t do. I do have people who watch all that. And you’re right. They say there’s not a lot of coverage.
However, I just saw NBC did a big piece on Nightly News about Loudoun County and the whole sexual assault. I think also, nationally, with the attorney general kind of stepping in, and the DOJ, with that letter and the National School Board Association, it became a bigger story that was not just Virginia and Virginia governors-based. It was really a national story when the DOJ put out that letter.
So I don’t know why different networks make the choices they make. I have suspicions, but I don’t know. We like to cover as much as we can on all sides.
I don’t know what their editorial decision making process is, but it usually doesn’t go in the way of making the Republicans look good. Let’s just say that.
If Youngkin does win, is his focus on schools likely to become a model for other candidates?
One hundred percent. There’ll be a lot of races that look at [his campaign], if he is successful, and say, “How do I replicate that in my district, in my midterm election?”
If McAuliffe wins, what did he do right?
He effectively linked Youngkin to [former president Donald Trump], and that turned out independents and women in the suburbs. McAuliffe in every poll, I think, is leading among women, and if he does pull it out, that’ll be where that support comes from.
Which regions in NoVA should people be watching on election night?
Fairfax is a big one. And I think Arlington, specifically, is another one. Once you get around the Washington, DC, exurbs, if you will, you have a lot of people who are somehow tied to the government, either directly or once-removed. And if that starts to turn, somehow for the Republican, or if it’s at least better than the last election, that’ll be pretty telling.
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