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    Youngkin Vetoes Measures to Remove Tax Breaks for Confederate Heritage Group

    The Virginia governor rejected efforts by the state’s Democrats to reshape the Commonwealth’s relationship with its Confederate past. Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia vetoed on Friday two bills that would have revoked tax exemptions for the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a century-old organization that has often been at the center of debates over the state’s Confederate past and its racial history.In doing so, Mr. Youngkin sided with fellow Republicans in the legislature who almost unanimously opposed the bills and the efforts by the state’s Democrats to curtail the Commonwealth’s relationship with Confederate heritage organizations. The bills had nearly unanimous Democratic support in both chambers of the legislature. (One Democrat did not participate in one of the votes.) The organization’s property tax exemptions were added to the state code in the 1950s, during segregation and when the Commonwealth maintained a closer relationship with the group. The organization’s Virginia division is also exempt from paying recordation taxes, which are levied when property sales are registered for public record.In a statement explaining his decision, Mr. Youngkin acknowledged that the property tax exemption was “ripe for reform, delineated by inconsistencies and discrepancies.” But, he said that the bills were too narrow, specifically targeting the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and approving them would set “an inappropriate precedent.” Lawmakers who introduced the bills said that they had wanted to modernize the tax code to reflect the state’s current values; they also stated that the government should not support organizations that promote myths romanticizing the Confederacy. Critics of the legislation said that the bills unfairly targeted the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and claimed that the group and its purposes were misunderstood.Alex Askew, a Democratic delegate who introduced one of the bills, called the governor’s vetoes “perplexing.” We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    On a Day of Graduations, Berkeley’s Protests Stand Out

    At the University of California, Berkeley, hundreds of soon-to-be graduates rose from their seats in protest, chanting and disrupting their commencement. At Virginia Commonwealth University, about 60 graduates in caps and gowns walked out during Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s speech. At the University of Wisconsin, a handful of graduates stood with their backs to their chancellor as she spoke.After weeks of tumult on college campuses over pro-Palestinian protests, many administrators prepared themselves for disruptions at graduations on Saturday. And while there were demonstrations — most noisily, perhaps, at U.C. Berkeley — ceremonies at several universities unfolded without major incident. Many students who protested did so silently.Anticipating possible disruptions, university administrators had increased their security or taken various measures, including dismantling encampments, setting aside free speech zones, canceling student speeches and issuing admission tickets.Some administrators also tried to reach agreements with encampment organizers. The University of Wisconsin said it had reached a deal with protesters to clear the encampment in return for a meeting to discuss the university’s investments.Some students, too, were on edge about their big day — many missed their high school graduations four years ago because of the pandemic and did not want to repeat the experience.In 2020, David Emuze and his mother had watched his high school graduation “ceremony,” a parade of senior photos set to music on Zoom, from their living room in Springfield, Ill. This time, he and his classmates at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign heard that other schools, like the University of Southern California and Columbia University, had canceled their main-stage commencements altogether because of campus unrest.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    The Key Elections Taking Place in 2023

    Among the races to watch are governors’ contests in Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi and mayoral elections in Chicago and Philadelphia.It might be tempting to focus on the 2024 presidential election now that the midterms are in the rearview mirror, but don’t sleep on 2023: key races for governor, mayor and other offices will be decided.Their outcomes will be closely watched for signs of whether Democrats or Republicans have momentum going into next year’s presidential election and congressional races — and for what they signal about the influence of former President Donald J. Trump.Virginia and New Jersey have noteworthy state house elections, and in Wisconsin, a state Supreme Court race will determine the balance of power in a body whose conservative majority routinely sides with Republicans. Here’s what to watch:Kentucky governorOf the three governors’ races this year, only Kentucky features an incumbent Democrat seeking re-election in a state that Mr. Trump won in 2020. The race also appears packed with the most intrigue.Gov. Andy Beshear won by less than 6,000 votes in 2019, ousting Matt Bevin, the Trump-backed Republican incumbent in the cherry-red state that is home to Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate G.O.P. leader.A growing field of Republicans has ambitions of settling the score in 2023, including Daniel Cameron, who in 2019 became the first Black person to be elected as Kentucky’s attorney general, an office previously held by Mr. Beshear. Mr. Cameron, who is seen as a possible successor to Mr. McConnell, drew attention in 2020 when he announced that a grand jury did not indict two Louisville officers who shot Breonna Taylor. Last June, Mr. Trump endorsed Mr. Cameron for governor, but there will be competition for the G.O.P. nomination.Attorney General Daniel Cameron, signing the papers for his candidacy last week, is among Republicans seeking to challenge Gov. Andy Beshear this year.Timothy D. Easley/Associated PressKelly Craft, a former ambassador to the United Nations under Mr. Trump, is also running. So are Mike Harmon, the state auditor of public accounts, and Ryan Quarles, the state’s agricultural commissioner, and several other Republicans. The primary will be on May 16.Louisiana governorGov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who narrowly won a second term in 2019, is not eligible to run again because of term limits. The open-seat race has tantalized some prominent Republicans, including Jeff Landry, the state’s attorney general, who has declared his candidacy.Two other Republicans weighing entering the race are John Schroder, the state treasurer who has told supporters he will run, and Representative Garret Graves.Shawn Wilson, the state’s transportation secretary under Mr. Edwards, is one of the few Democrats who have indicated interest in running in deep-red Louisiana.Electing a New Speaker of the HouseRepresentative Kevin McCarthy won the speakership after a revolt within the Republican Party set off a long stretch of unsuccessful votes.Inside the Speaker Fight: Mr. McCarthy’s speaker bid turned into a rolling disaster. “The Daily” has the inside story of how it went so wrong and what he was forced to give up.A Tenuous Grip: By making concessions to far-right representatives, Mr. McCarthy has effectively given them carte blanche to disrupt the workings of the House — and to hold him hostage to their demands.Looming Consequences: Congressional gridlock brought on by far-right Republicans now seems more likely to lead to government shutdowns or, worse, a default on debt obligations.Roots of the Chaos: How did Mr. McCarthy’s bid become a four-day debacle? The story begins with the zero-sum politics of Newt Gingrich.Mississippi governorGov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, is running for a second term. But the advantage of incumbency and a substantial campaign fund may not be enough to stop a primary challenge, especially with his job approval numbers among the lowest of the nation’s governors.Philip Gunn, Mississippi’s House speaker, has been coy about possible plans to enter the race after announcing in November that he would not seek re-election to the Legislature. Among the other Republicans whose names have been bandied about is Michael Watson, the secretary of state. But Mr. Reeves is the only Republican to have filed so far; the deadline is Feb. 1.A Democrat hasn’t been elected governor of Mississippi in two decades, since a contest was decided by the Legislature because the winning candidate did not receive a majority of votes. Not surprisingly, few Democrats have stepped forward to run. One name to watch is Brandon Presley, a public service commissioner. Mr. Presley is a relative of Elvis Presley, who was from Tupelo, Miss., according to Mississippi Today, a nonprofit news website.U.S. House (Virginia’s Fourth District)The death in late November of Representative A. Donald McEachin, a Democrat from Virginia, prompted Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, to schedule a special election for Feb. 21.In December, Democrats resoundingly nominated Jennifer McClellan, a state senator, to represent the party in the contest for Virginia’s Fourth District, which includes Richmond and leans heavily Democratic. She could become the first Black woman elected to Congress in Virginia, where she would complete the two-year term that Mr. McEachin won by 30 percentage points just weeks before his death.Republicans tapped Leon Benjamin, a Navy veteran and pastor who lost to Mr. McEachin in November and in 2020.Chicago mayorMayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago, a Democrat who in 2019 became the first Black woman and first openly gay person to lead the nation’s third-most populous city, faces a gantlet of challengers in her quest for re-election.That test will arrive somewhat early in the year, with the mayoral election set for Feb. 28. If no candidate finishes with a majority of the votes, a runoff will be held on April 4.Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago faces several challengers in her re-election bid.Jim Vondruska/ReutersThe crowded field includes Representative Jesús G. García, a Democrat who is known as Chuy and who was overwhelmingly re-elected to a third term in his Cook County district in November and previously ran unsuccessfully for mayor. In the current race, Ms. Lightfoot has attacked Mr. García over receiving money for his House campaign from Sam Bankman-Fried, the criminally charged founder of the collapsed cryptocurrency exchange FTX.Ms. Lightfoot’s other opponents include Kam Buckner, a state legislator; Brandon Johnson, a Cook County commissioner; Sophia King and Roderick T. Sawyer, who both serve on the City Council; Paul Vallas, a former chief executive of Chicago public schools; and Ja’Mal Green, a prominent activist in the city.Philadelphia mayorAn open-seat race for mayor in Pennsylvania’s foremost Democratic bastion has attracted an expansive field of candidates. The office is held by Jim Kenney, a Democrat who is not eligible to run again because of term limits.Five members of the City Council have resigned to enter the race, which city rules require. They are Allan Domb, Derek Green, Helen Gym, Cherelle Parker and Maria Quiñones Sánchez.The field also includes Rebecca Rhynhart, the city’s controller, who has likewise resigned in order to run; Amen Brown, a state legislator; Jeff Brown, a supermarket chain founder; and James DeLeon; a retired judge.Wisconsin Supreme CourtConservatives are clinging to a one-seat majority on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, but a retirement within the court’s conservative ranks could shift the balance of power this year. The court’s justices have increasingly been called on to settle landmark lawsuits involving elections, gerrymandering, abortion and other contentious issues.Two conservative and two liberal candidates have entered what is technically a nonpartisan election to succeed Judge Patience D. Roggensack on the seven-member court.Daniel Kelly, a conservative former justice on the state Supreme Court who lost his seat in the 2020 election, is seeking a comeback. Running against him in the conservative lane is Jennifer Dorow, a circuit court judge in Waukesha County who drew widespread attention when she presided over the trial of Darrell E. Brooks, the man convicted in the killing of six people he struck with his car during a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wis., in 2021.Janet Protasiewicz and Everett Mitchell, judges from Milwaukee County and Dane County, which includes Madison, the capital, are seeking to give liberals a majority on the court.The two candidates who receive the most votes in the nonpartisan primary on Feb. 21 — regardless of their leanings — will face each other in the general election on April 4.Legislature (Virginia and New Jersey)Virginia is emerging as a potential tempest in 2023, with its divided legislature up for re-election and elected officials squarely focused on the issue of abortion — not to mention a Republican governor who is flirting with a run for president.Gov. Glenn Youngkin wants to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, emboldened by the Supreme Court’s repeal last summer of Roe v. Wade, the 50-year-old constitutional right to an abortion.His proposal is expected to resonate with Republican lawmakers, who narrowly control the House of Delegates. But it is likely to run into fierce opposition in the Senate, where Democrats are clinging to a slender majority. All seats in both chambers are up for election.Another Mid-Atlantic state to watch is New Jersey, where Republicans made inroads in 2021 despite being in the minority and are seeking to build on those gains. More

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    If Biden’s Plan Is Like a ‘New Deal,’ Why Don’t Voters Care?

    RICHMOND, Va. — As Chris Frelke surveyed the Thomas B. Smith Community Center, he conceded that the beige-and-green cinder block structure was not much to look at. But Mr. Frelke, the parks director in Virginia’s capital, spoke with excitement describing the image in his mind’s eye: One day, there would be a pristine new complex capable of providing services from child care to community college classes.That dream complex is not some remote fantasy. The city of Richmond intends to build it in the next few years using $20 million from the American Rescue Plan, President Biden’s trillion-dollar coronavirus-relief law. Richmond will receive a total of $155 million, a cash infusion that its Democratic mayor, Levar Stoney, called “a once-in-a-lifetime sort of investment.”“This is akin to our New Deal,” Mr. Stoney said.Unlike the New Deal, however, this $1.9 trillion federal investment in American communities has barely registered with voters. Rather than a trophy for Mr. Biden and his party, the program has become a case study in how easily voters can overlook even a lavishly funded government initiative delivering benefits close to home.Mr. Biden’s popularity has declined in polls over the past year, and voters are giving him less credit for the country’s economic recovery than his advisers had anticipated. In Virginia, Democrats got shellacked in the 2021 off-year elections amid the country’s halting emergence from the depths of the pandemic.Ambivalence among voters stems partly from the fact that many of the projects being funded are, for now, invisible.At Richmond’s Southside Community Center, slated to balloon in capacity with the help of rescue plan funding, Linda Scott, a 75-year-old pickleball enthusiast, said she had heard nothing of the coming upgrades.“I know that we’re getting lots of money,” said Ms. Scott, a self-described independent who voted for Mr. Biden. “But what we’re doing with it, I’m not sure.”Thirteen months after Mr. Biden signed the emergency package, that money is starting to fuel a wave of investment on city infrastructure, public services and pilot programs unlike any in decades.“You tell them about the American Rescue Plan,” Mr. Biden has said to House members, “and they say, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’”Doug Mills/The New York TimesCity and county leaders are spending confidently, boasting of the generational improvements they are making with the help of Mr. Biden’s legislation.The city of Richmond plans to use $78 million to create four activity centers, overhauling two existing facilities and building two. Rescue plan money will also fund more than $30 million on affordable housing initiatives and smaller amounts on public safety and health.Mr. Stoney allowed that it was not clear how much voters had processed that barrage of spending when the projects were far from completion. In cities like his, the money must make its way through city councils and contract-bidding processes; in some states, the path to deploying funds has been even longer as governors wrangle with conservative legislatures.“I wish we could snap our fingers and say: Oh, there’s a new community center right here today!” Mr. Stoney said.A Guide to the 2022 Midterm ElectionsMidterms Begin: The Texas primaries officially opened the 2022 election season. See the full primary calendar.In the Senate: Democrats have a razor-thin margin that could be upended with a single loss. Here are the four incumbents most at risk.In the House: Republicans and Democrats are seeking to gain an edge through redistricting and gerrymandering, though this year’s map is poised to be surprisingly fairGovernors’ Races: Georgia’s contest will be at the center of the political universe, but there are several important races across the country.Key Issues: Inflation, the pandemic, abortion and voting rights are expected to be among this election cycle’s defining topics.Other initiatives will kick in faster but affect fewer people: In Richmond, the mayor’s office has endorsed a grant of about $350,000 to Daily Planet Health Services, clinics for low-income residents, to expand capacity to care for people without homes.Richmond plans to use more than $30 million from federal rescue plan funds on affordable housing initiatives.Parker Michels-Boyce for The New York TimesDr. Patricia Cook, the organization’s chief medical officer, said the money could be applied quickly: “We’d be able to fill the rooms that day.”Getting voters excited about the American Rescue Plan is a tall order when so many are preoccupied with the price of gasoline and the cost and availability of other basic goods — concerns the emergency-spending bill was not designed to address.A Gallup poll in March found that more Americans said they worried a great deal about inflation than any other issue. Crime and homelessness, both targets of rescue spending, were not far behind.The American Rescue Plan, which also funded direct relief payments to voters and health programs like vaccine distribution, has been criticized by Republicans and some economists for pumping too much money into the economy and probably contributing to inflation.Mr. Stoney said he had encouraged the White House to work with mayors and treat them as the “tip of the spear” in promoting its aid. Many Americans were still in a gloomy mood because of the pandemic, the mayor said, and Democrats had not done a very good job of communicating about the plan.“Not just the president, but it’s difficult even for us sometimes to break through some of the noise that’s out there,” he said.Mayor Levar Stoney of Richmond says that if Democrats don’t find a way to effectively convey their role in the rescue plan to voters, then Republicans would take credit for spending the money.Parker Michels-Boyce for The New York TimesOnce in a LifetimeThe political predicament confronting Mr. Biden and his party was embedded in the structure of the American Rescue Plan. Within the $1.9 trillion law, a $350 billion fund for state and local governments was designed to meet a dire set of circumstances along the lines of the Great Recession: a potentially catastrophic short-term budget shortfall followed by a slow economic recovery.Mr. Biden declared it would help states and municipalities rehire all “those laid-off police officers, firefighters, teachers and nurses.”The $350 billion in rescue funds would be handed out by 2022 in increments, with recipients given until 2026 to spend it. That timeline was meant to gird states and cities against another economic slowdown, said Gene Sperling, the presidential adviser overseeing the rescue plan.Yet rather than limping through a recovery, the country enjoyed the fastest economic growth in nearly four decades and saw the unemployment rate plummet. Government revenues surged across much of the country, and governors of once-beleaguered states, like California and Minnesota, announced proposals to give residents tax cuts or one-time rebates.Some state and local government payrolls are smaller than they were before the pandemic; many municipalities face a backlog in services from courts to coroners’ offices, and they are not immune to inflation and fuel shocks.The rescue spending still represents something of an insurance policy against a new recession. But for state and local leaders, the money is clearly something more than that.As government revenues began returning, the Treasury Department issued guidance encouraging cities and counties to treat rescue funding as a flexible resource that could be deployed for purposes faintly related to Covid-19.Some initiatives will kick in faster but affect fewer people: In Richmond, the mayor’s office has endorsed a grant of about $350,000 to Daily Planet Health Services, a network of clinics for low-income residents.Parker Michels-Boyce for The New York TimesIf municipalities could make the case that a social problem worsened because of the pandemic, then they could probably use rescue plan funding.Under the federal legislation, Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz knows that Toledo, Ohio, is due $180 million over two years, a colossal sum for a city of about 270,000 people.His administration outlined a combination of short- and long-term improvements, including demolishing blighted buildings, creating affordable housing projects and targeted spending on public safety and child care.Mr. Kapszukiewicz is a rare Democrat who may have been helped politically by the funding. The mayor won re-election by a wide margin in November; in his victory speech, he cited the American Rescue Plan as a reason for his city to be optimistic.“None of us in public life have ever had an opportunity like this,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said.Cities and counties cannot enact programs that would go bankrupt once the money expires. That has encouraged governments to use it on one-time investments that could be completed by the 2026 deadline — and underwrite policy experiments on a limited scale.Construction on a home that will be offered for sale through the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust in Richmond.Parker Michels-Boyce for The New York TimesMayor Michelle Wu of Boston, a progressive Democrat, has pledged to spend hundreds of millions on affordable housing initiatives. Ms. Wu, who campaigned on eliminating fares for mass transit, is using about $8 million of rescue plan money — from more than half a billion allotted to her city — to make three bus lines free for two years.She hopes demonstrating the value of free transit will create momentum to enact the policy without federal money.“Our goal is to resist the temptation to divvy up these funds into 10,000 photo ops,” Ms. Wu said, “and instead truly focus on transformational change.”Ms. Wu said she had been up front with her constituents that the federal money made her transit policy possible, but she said many were not focused on its origins.“I think if you talk to people out and about, living their lives in our neighborhoods, they don’t care where the funding comes from,” she said.The potential of these programs is unproven, and in many cases years away — a challenge for Democrats who would like to run on a record of concrete accomplishments this fall.“You tell them about the American Rescue Plan,” Mr. Biden said to House members, “and they say, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’”Linda Scott said she had heard nothing of the coming upgrades to Richmond’s Southside Community Center. “I know that we’re getting lots of money, but what we’re doing with it, I’m not sure,” she said.Parker Michels-Boyce for The New York TimesChris Frelke, Richmond’s parks director, said the city would spend $78 million creating four community centers.Parker Michels-Boyce for The New York Times‘It Just Does Not Connect’A short drive from Richmond’s Thomas B. Smith Community Center is where the city of Richmond ends and Chesterfield County begins. A historically Republican suburb that is wealthier and whiter than Virginia’s capital city, Chesterfield County has already received more than $34 million through the American Rescue Plan. A second installment of that size is due later.The Republican-led county board has announced a major upgrade of parks and other construction projects, including a school and police station.The county’s finances remained sturdy throughout the pandemic and are now so robust that the board of supervisors approved a reduction in the real estate tax. The rescue plan funding allowed the county to accelerate some projects, local officials said, but they would likely have undertaken many of them without federal help.Christopher Winslow, the Republican chair of the county board, said the projects would have a “long-lasting and significant effect on citizens.” But in a fiscally robust county like his, Mr. Winslow said, the funding was less a rescue than a “bonanza.”By the time the first tranche of rescue money arrived, Mr. Winslow said, there was “a sense that the real pain was largely behind us.” That view is shared by many Republicans in Congress, who criticized the original price tag of the legislation and proposed clawing back some of the money.During a recent meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors, several White House officials, including Mitch Landrieu, the former New Orleans mayor, urged city leaders to do more to promote the rescue money — or risk seeing Congress redirect some of the funding elsewhere.After shedding its conservative roots to back Mr. Biden for president in 2020, Chesterfield County shifted back to the right to support a Republican, Glenn Youngkin, for governor.Lashrecse Aird, a former Democratic state legislator who represented a slice of Chesterfield County, said the rescue plan was of “no value whatsoever” to Democrats in Virginia’s 2021 elections. Ms. Aird, who lost her seat in the House of Delegates in November, said voters were scarcely aware of the federal aid.“It just does not connect. That is just the honest to goodness truth,” Ms. Aird said. “Even when you’re talking about schools, so much of this stuff is so far down the line before it’s anything you can see.”Richmond’s Southside Community Center is slated to balloon in size and capacity.Parker Michels-Boyce for The New York Times More

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    Winsome Sears Wants Black Voters to Rethink the G.O.P.

    The incoming lieutenant governor of Virginia was an unlikely candidate: a deeply conservative Black woman, and an immigrant, who supports Donald Trump.RICHMOND, Va. — On a December afternoon, Winsome Sears, Virginia’s lieutenant governor-elect, stood at the podium in the State Senate chamber where she will soon preside. It was empty but for a few clerks and staffers who were walking her through a practice session, making pretend motions and points of order. Ms. Sears followed along as the clerks explained arcane Senate protocols, though she occasionally raised matters that weren’t in the script.“What if they’re making a ruckus?” Ms. Sears asked her tutors.Then, a clerk said, pointing to the giant wooden gavel at Ms. Sears’s right hand, you bang that. Ms. Sears smiled.That she was standing here at all was an improbability built upon unlikelihoods. Her campaign was a long shot, late in starting, skimpily funded and repeatedly overhauled. The political trajectory that preceded it was hardly more auspicious: She appeared on the scene 20 years ago, winning a legislative seat in an upset, but after one term and a quixotic bid for Congress, disappeared from electoral politics. She briefly surfaced in 2018, announcing a write-in protest against Virginia’s Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, but this earned her little beyond a few curious mentions in the press.Yet just three years later she is the lieutenant governor-elect, having bested two veteran lawmakers for the Republican nomination and become the first Black woman elected to statewide office in Virginia history. She will take office on Jan. 15, along with Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin.Ms. Sears during a campaign event for Glenn Youngkin in October. She became the first Black woman elected to statewide office in Virginia history.Jason Andrew for The New York TimesThe focus on Ms. Sears’s triumph, in news profiles and in the post-election crowing of conservative pundits, has been on the rare combination of her biography and politics: a Black woman, an immigrant and an emphatically conservative, Trump-boosting Republican.“The message is important,” Ms. Sears, 57, said over a lunch of Jamaican oxtail with her transition team at a restaurant near the State Capitol. “But the messenger is equally important.”This is the question that Ms. Sears embodies: whether she is a singular figure who won a surprise victory or the vanguard of a major political realignment, dissolving longtime realities of race and partisan identification. Democrats say there is little evidence for the latter, and that Ms. Sears won with typical Republican voters in an especially Republican year. But Ms. Sears insists that many Black and immigrant voters naturally side with Republicans on a variety of issues — and that some are starting to realize that.“The only way to change things is to win elections,” she said. “And who better to help make that change but me? I look like the strategy.”Ms. Sears dates her own partisan epiphany to her early 20s. She already had plenty of life experience by that point: moving at the age of 6 from Jamaica to the Bronx to be with her father, who had come seeking work; joining the Marines as a lost teenager and learning to be a diesel mechanic; becoming a single mother at 21. When she listened to the 1988 presidential campaign, hearing the debates over abortion and welfare, she realized, to her surprise, that she was a Republican.More than a dozen years passed before Ms. Sears, then a married mother of three who had run a homeless shelter and gone to graduate school, began her political career. At the urging of local Republicans, she ran in 2001 for the House of Delegates in a majority Black district in Norfolk. The seat had been held by Billy Robinson Jr., a Democrat, for 20 years; his father had held it before him. Weeks before the election, Mr. Robinson spent a night in jail on a contempt of court charge. Ms. Sears won in the surprise of the election season.Ms. Sears will take office on Jan. 15, along with Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin.Steve Helber/Associated PressIn the Legislature, she adjusted to the political architecture and her unusual place in it: joining, then leaving, the legislative Black caucus; voting dependably as a Republican but calling earlier than many colleagues for the resignation of the Republican House speaker when news broke of his sexual harassment settlement.She did not run for re-election, instead launching an underdog campaign against Democratic U.S. Representative Bobby Scott. Mr. Scott returned to Congress, where he remains, and the House of Delegates seat returned to Democratic hands for good. Ms. Sears was “done with politics,” she said.Her family moved to the small city of Winchester in the Shenandoah Valley, where Ms. Sears and her husband ran a plumbing and electrical repair shop. She held a few posts — on the state board of education and on a committee at the Department of Veterans Affairs — and wrote a book, “Stop Being a Christian Wimp!” Much of her focus was on caring for a daughter struggling with mental illness. In 2012, the daughter, DeJon Williams, was killed in a car accident along with her two young children.While Ms. Sears was absent from politics, Barack Obama won the presidency, Trayvon Martin was killed, the Black Lives Matter movement rose up, Donald Trump was elected and neo-Nazis marched on Charlottesville, Va. Ms. Sears’s political example, as a Black woman Republican representing a majority Black district in Virginia, went unrepeated.Republicans, she said, rarely even tried to sever the old ties between Black voters and the Democratic Party. This is partly why she decided to run this year.“I just took a look at the field, and said, ‘My God, we’re gonna lose again,’” she said. “Nobody was going to reach out to the various communities that needed to be heard from: women, immigrants, you know, Latinos, Asians, Blacks, etc.”Ms. Sears favors strict limits on abortion, supports vouchers to help students pay for private school tuition and insists that gun control laws do not deter crime but that gun ownership does.Pete Marovich for The New York TimesShe stood to the right of much of the field and was arguably the furthest right of the three Republicans nominated for statewide office. She favors strict limits on abortion, calling Democratic abortion policies “wicked”; she is an advocate of vouchers to help students pay for private school tuition and of tighter restrictions on voting; and she insists that gun control laws do not deter crime — gun ownership does. A photo that went viral last spring, showing her holding an AR-15 while wearing a blazer-and-dress outfit suitable for a Chamber of Commerce luncheon, propelled her as much as anything to the Republican nomination.Ms. Sears derides the left as too concerned with race but often explains her politics as rooted in Black history, stressing Marcus Garvey’s rhetoric on self-reliance as a Jamaican immigrant in Jim Crow America, emphasizing that Harriet Tubman carried a gun and referring to the infamous Tuskegee experiments in explaining her opposition to Covid-19 vaccine mandates. “If the Democrats are always going to talk about race, then let’s talk about it,” she said.She rejects the notion that the problems Republicans have attracting Black voters might run deeper than mere neglect. She was angered when Republicans nominated Corey Stewart, who had a history of associating with Neo-Confederates, for the 2018 U.S. Senate race in Virginia. But she said this didn’t give her qualms about the party. She remains a champion of Mr. Trump, who openly endorsed Mr. Stewart; indeed, she was the national chairwoman of a group called “Black Americans to Re-elect the President.”Jennifer McClellan, a Democratic state senator from Richmond, agreed that Democrats could not assume that Black people would show up for them at the polls, saying that Black voters, like any voters, choose candidates based on who they believe is going to help solve their problems. But, she continued, little that Ms. Sears has said suggests she would be that person in office.“The vast majority of Black voters disagree with her on abortion, on school choice, on guns,” Ms. McClellan said. “Those aren’t necessarily the issues driving Black voters anyway. It’s the economy, it’s health care, it’s broader access to education.”Lieutenant governors in Virginia are fairly limited in their responsibilities, but they have a public profile — and they almost always eventually run for governor. Sarahbeth Maney/The New York TimesThe evidence that this year’s elections scrambled the fundamentals of race and partisanship is mixed at most. If anything, some Republicans worried that Ms. Sears’s hard-right politics might jeopardize the campaign strategy of appealing to more moderate voters. This risk was largely mitigated, said John Fredericks, a conservative radio host, by the fact that Ms. Sears’s general election campaign, which he called “a train wreck from start to finish,” never raised enough money to really broadcast her politics.In any case, the attention was overwhelmingly directed to the top of the ticket.“The election this year was all about the gubernatorial candidates,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington. There were few big surprises in the exit polls, several political experts said, and Ms. Sears won her race by a margin that would have been expected of just about any Republican this year.But there were some warning signs for Democrats, outlined in a postelection survey by the Democratic Governors Association. While Black Virginians overwhelmingly voted for Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee for governor, the analysis found a drop in Democratic support among Black men, compared with the 2020 presidential election. There was notable erosion in Democratic support among Asian and Latino voters as well.“We don’t need to be tied or beholden to one particular party,” said Wes Bellamy, a Black political activist and a former vice mayor of Charlottesville. He will be watching Ms. Sears closely, he said.Lieutenant governors in Virginia are fairly limited in their responsibilities, but they have a public profile — and they almost always run for governor. If Ms. Sears advocates for policies that improve the day-to-day lives of Black people and, more crucially, if she can persuade her Republican colleagues to go along, Mr. Bellamy said, “I think she’s gold.” More

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    Why a Changing Richmond and Its Suburbs Are Key to Virginia’s Vote

    The region has been an engine of Democratic victories, but now the party is on defense as Republicans go after swing voters with worries about schools.RICHMOND — Schuyler VanValkenburg, a Democrat in the Virginia House of Delegates, drove the oak-shaded streets of his suburban district, pointing out landmarks that told the story of how he had won his seat after Republicans held it for decades.Over there was one of the county’s first mosques. There, the Hindu Center. The Final Gravity Brewing Company had opened near Love Shack, a breakfast spot offering Virginia ham and eggs on a croissant.The houses of worship for global immigrants and the cool watering holes for young transplants reflected sweeping demographic changes that have pushed politics in the Richmond suburbs, including Henrico County, to the left.“A new generation moved in,” said Mr. VanValkenburg, a high school government teacher first elected in 2017. “Henrico became browner. It became denser.”But now, he and his party are in races that are far tighter than most expected, including a deadlocked governor’s contest. And Democrats’ historic margins in Virginia in recent years are suddenly looking as though they may have been the result not of an inexorable demographic tide, but of a furious resistance to Donald J. Trump — one that exaggerated the true strength of the Democratic Party in a state that could be returning to its previous role as a battleground.Without Mr. Trump in office, Terry McAuliffe, the former Democratic governor seeking a new term in that post, is fighting for his political life, four years after the current Democratic governor coasted to a 9-point win.Greater Richmond, including the capital city and its diversifying suburbs, is the second-fastest-growing region in the state and a key to the governor’s race, as well as to control of the Legislature.Demographic changes in Richmond are reflected in the many new houses of worship, like the Islamic Center of Richmond.Carlos Bernate for The New York TimesA poll released Wednesday by Christopher Newport University suggested that Democrats were falling well short in the region. While it mirrored most other polls in showing the governor’s race deadlocked statewide, it said Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate, had pulled away from Mr. McAuliffe in the Richmond media market — an area extending beyond the city and its populous suburbs into rural counties.A Fox News poll on Thursday was even grimmer for Democrats: It showed Mr. Youngkin with an 8-point lead among likely voters statewide ahead of Tuesday’s election.“On the ground, it feels like our side has all the energy,” said Mark Early Jr., a Republican vying for a Democratic-held seat in the House of Delegates that straddles Richmond and suburban Chesterfield County.Mr. Early said a Youngkin television ad ripping Mr. McAuliffe for saying parents shouldn’t tell schools what to teach had poured “gasoline on the fire” of some voters’ frustrations over public schools, first kindled last year by Covid-related school closures that set back students’ learning. “I hear a lot of blowback from moms, especially working moms,” he said.Democrats accuse Mr. Youngkin of distortions and fear-mongering on schools, including calls for police officers in every school and a ban on critical race theory, which educators say plays no role in K-12 curriculums.Still, Mr. Youngkin’s forward-looking closing message, emphasizing “parents’ rights,” seemed considerably more resonant with voters than Mr. McAuliffe’s retrospective final appeal — reminding Virginians, whose swing counties are doing quite well economically, of all the jobs he created and the money he spent on education as governor from 2014 to 2018.“If Youngkin is able to turn it around here, I think it will be because of his education gambit,” said Richard Meagher, a politics professor at Randolph-Macon College near Richmond. “That’s the one issue where you can still win back those suburban voters who have turned into the Democratic column lately.”For Mr. McAuliffe to prevail in greater Richmond, Democrats need to drive up turnout in the city; maintain their gains of the past 15 years in Henrico County, north and east of the city; and not cede too much ground in Chesterfield County, which includes more conservative western suburbs.Mary Margaret Kastelberg told voters she wasn’t a Trump apologist as she canvassed in Henrico County.Carlos Bernate for The New York TimesOn Thursday evening, Mary Margaret Kastelberg, a Republican challenging a Democratic delegate in a bellwether district in Henrico County, spent her 26th wedding anniversary knocking on the doors of residents her campaign had identified as swing voters.She wasn’t having much luck.Laura Kohlroser, still in hospital scrubs from her workday, said the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol had deeply soured her on Republicans. “The way the Republican Party stood behind Donald Trump, that to me was just deplorable,” she said.Walter Taylor said that he had been a “die-hard Republican” through 2016, voting that year for Mr. Trump, but that his shambolic presidency “turned me 180 degrees.” He was not convinced that Mr. Youngkin, a former financial executive, was really the hoops-shooting, fleece-vest-wearing regular guy he portrayed in TV ads.“He’s too close to Trump,’’ said Mr. Taylor, a retired insurance underwriter. But Ms. Kastelberg earned his vote, he told her.Walter Taylor, right, a Republican, is skeptical of Mr. Youngkin because “he’s too close to Trump.’’Carlos Bernate for The New York TimesEarlier on Thursday, Mr. McAuliffe had been in Richmond for a rally with leaders of the African American community, which makes up 40 percent of the population. Early voting in the city has been running behind early voting in the suburbs, an imperfect but useful gauge of enthusiasm.At a community center on the North Side, Frank Moseley, director of a nonpartisan group that informs voters of color about issues, said Democrats’ failure to deliver on big promises made to Black voters in 2020 — on gun violence, affordable housing and voting rights — had cooled some voters’ ardor. “We are probably one of the most letdown voting blocs,” he said. “That is one of the biggest detractors for individuals going out to vote.”Aja Moore acknowledged that voters under 30 are much less likely to vote this year.Carlos Bernate for The New York TimesOne of the few younger people in the room, Aja Moore, 24, acknowledged what polls are showing: Voters under 30, a big part of the Biden coalition last year, are less likely to vote now.“They’re busy with their life,” said Ms. Moore, who works in government relations for a big law firm. “They’re not into it.’’In an interview, Amy Wentz, a member of a civil rights group, the Richmond Crusade for Voters, suggested another potential reason that some Black voters, especially women, may be in a funk: The party nominated a 64-year-old white man for governor after he defeated two Black female legislators in the primary.Ms. Wentz, who said she was a strong McAuliffe supporter, forwarded a Facebook post from a friend. “I know I am going to get fussed at, but I am not motivated to vote,” the woman wrote. “I really feel some type of way about Virginia not having a Black woman as our gubernatorial candidate.”Ms. Wentz said Mr. McAuliffe had done a good job reaching out to people of color, including in a Zoom meeting with her own organization. “I feel like we’re going to step up,” she said. “We’re not feeling it right now, but I feel like that by Tuesday, people are going to do the right thing. There’s too much at stake.”The 2020 census confirmed the demographic upheaval of the Richmond region. Within the city, which only last month removed the last Confederate statue — of Robert E. Lee — from historic Monument Avenue, the share of white residents rose over the past decade faster than any locality in the state. Gentrification has transformed industrial areas into neighborhoods of craft breweries and restaurants serving Alsatian cuisine.At the same time, the Black population swelled in the suburbs: by 25 percent in Chesterfield County, its largest growth among all racial groups. In Henrico County, the populations of Black, Asian and Hispanic residents all rose significantly.Politics in the Richmond suburbs have moved to the left because of gentrification and a population swell of Black, Asian and Latino residents.Carlos Bernate for The New York TimesMr. VanValkenburg, the lawmaker and teacher, said that 15 years ago, his students were overwhelmingly white. Now, about 100 languages are spoken in the county.He rose to anger over Mr. Youngkin’s campaigning on issues involving education, including his stoking the cultural issue of critical race theory — a dog whistle to white voters that is not even taught in grade school — and accusing Democrats of wanting to keep parents out of classrooms.“Of course parents should have a say in education,” said Mr. VanValkenburg, who emails parents weekly updates on their children’s class work.Republicans, he complained, “keep trying to gin up issues that aren’t real as a way to scare people,” including appeals to conservatives who have led efforts to remove books with gay and racial themes from schools.If Mr. Youngkin is elected and fulfills his pledge to ban critical race theory his first day, Mr. VanValkenburg said, it would have no practical effect. “But what it would do is create a culture of fear,” he said, driving through his district on Wednesday.“Does somebody feel bad about their race if we teach about slavery?” he added.On Thursday, the local paper reported that a parent had complained at a school board meeting about a novel in school libraries about an interracial teenage romance. Mr. VanValkenburg’s Republican opponent was quoted expressing his disgust. The district removed eight copies of the book from its shelves. More