The Surprising Strategy Behind Youngkin’s Stunner

Roe: I’ve not heard there was tension. I worked with [Trump adviser] Susie Wiles the whole way through. She was awesome. Probably 90 percent of our votes are [from] people who supported the president — 95, maybe. I mean, no tension there.

So I don’t know if there’s tension somewhere else, but from our [point of view], we needed every single vote. We love everybody. And so there was no tension from us. I mean, you’re looking at two of the three or four people that made a lot of decisions — there wasn’t any [tension] on our part.

On Biden: A lot of the time, we interpret these off-year races as a rejection of the incumbent president. But it sounds like what you’re saying is maybe that helped create a favorable environment for your candidate, but you didn’t really run an anti-Biden campaign. Let’s unpack how Biden played into the race.

Davison: Well, for sure once Biden’s favorability numbers started falling, it helped just from an environment standpoint. But if we had only focused on Biden and the national environment, you know, [if] you win by it, you die by it. So we needed to have that strategy on the ground focusing on Virginia, which allowed us to take advantage of a favorable environment.

We did not run — Jeff can fact-check me on this if my memory is bad — but we didn’t put [out] one TV ad that focused on Biden or Afghanistan. And Glenn rarely ever talked about Biden on the trail. Rarely. It would depend on the crowd or the event or what we were talking about, but it was not a battle cry on the ground.

If anything, it may have discouraged the number of base Democrats from turning out just because they had elected Biden and now things were going bad and they’re having events and 200 people show up to see the vice president [Kamala Harris]. A thousand people show up to see [the] former president [Barack Obama] on their side. There was just no energy there. So I think it might have depressed them a little bit, but it really wasn’t a focal point in this race. We didn’t talk about it.

Let’s talk about the exit polls a little bit. The numbers that really jumped out at me were non-college whites — there were big, big surges compared to last year — and rural voters, there was I think more than a 10-point gain compared to Trump last year, according to the exits I saw. What explains that surge among rural voters and non-college white voters in Virginia?

Roe: Was it a surge on turnout or surge in percentage [of the electorate]?

On margin, not their makeup of the electorate.

Roe: Yeah, I mean, I’ve just never seen an exit poll that I would ever utilize. And I’ve not seen the numbers on this one.

First of all, we advertised to them. We advertised a lot. We needed to get 75 percent [of the rural vote]. So it’s good to hear we got 76 percent.

We had our vote model: we needed to win 50 percent plus one at the [Virginia Beach] DMA [designated market area]. We needed to win Richmond by 50 percent plus one. We needed to get 65 percent in the Roanoke media market, 75 percent in the balance media markets, and we needed to get 43 percent in D.C. And we literally got every single one of those a little bit kind of scared.

To get 75 percent of the [rural] vote, I mean, those are kind of Saddam Hussein-type of numbers, [2.6s] right? To get that kind of vote, it’s going to require a couple of things. One, you’ve got to do a pretty good job yourself — but that only gets you so far. Terry McAuliffe did not compete for those votes at all. And then, of your $40 million of direct voter contact that you have at your disposal, if you’re Terry McAuliffe, spend half of that accusing us of being too conservative and just like Trump — [and in rural Virginia,] he of course, did very, very well.

And so it’s really pretty simply explained: [McAuliffe] didn’t show up. He didn’t give them a single reason to vote for him. Literally not a single reason. And he spent the whole entire campaign — half his voter contact money — telling everybody how much we were like Trump and we were really conservative and we were really pro-life, really pro-gun. He kind of ran our state campaign for us.

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