Anti-mask Republicans trail in 2021 governor races

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GOP nominees' embrace of Ron DeSantis-style policies is not winning over voters.

Polls in New Jersey and Virginia show Democratic gubernatorial nominees in those states leading their anti-mask GOP opponents, months out from the November contests.

On Friday, a Roanoke College poll found former Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe leading Republican Glenn Younkin, a wealthy ex-investment firm executive backed by former President Donald Trump, 46%-38%. The poll showed 44% of likely voters had a favorable view of McAuliffe while just 27% had a favorable view of Youngkin.

A second poll by Virginia Commonwealth University found McAuliffe leading Youngkin 40% to 37% among likely voters.

Both polls showed Democratic nominees comfortably ahead in the state's lieutenant governor and attorney general races.

Two days earlier, a Monmouth University poll of the New Jersey governor race found 52% of registered voters supported Democratic incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy for re-election. Thirty-six percent backed his Republican challenger, Jack Ciattarelli, a Trump-allied former state legislator.

Among their other controversial views, both Ciattarelli and Youngkin have positioned themselves as strong opponents of COVID-19 safety requirements, following the model of Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has repeatedly made national news for his attempts to block local schools from requiring face masks intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus and its variants.

Ciattarelli attended an anti-mask rally on Wednesday and urged a local school board not to require mask use, baselessly claiming that they "inhibit learning" and "have an adverse effect on the intellectual and emotional development of a child."

On Aug. 6, he blasted Murphy's decision to require students to wear masks, incorrectly stating, "The science is clear: nearly all children who contract COVID-19 are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic and wearing masks for children is terrible for their social and emotional development."

More than 120,000 children tested positive in the United States between Aug. 5 and 12 and child hospitalization rates have significantly increased since the surge of the delta variant. The American Association of Pediatricians has endorsed mask requirements for all in-person schools as a way to counter the spread.

A spokesperson for the New Jersey Democratic State Committee said in a press release on Thursday, "Across the nation, Republican governors are putting the public in danger by refusing to adopt sensible public health measures like requiring masks in schools, and Jack Ciattarelli has proven over and over again that he is cut from the same cloth as Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, Greg Abbott and other extremists who value politics more than our children’s health."

Youngkin has also advocated against masks in schools, accusing outgoing Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam — a pediatric neurologist — and other Democrats of trying to "impose their will and take away parents' ability to decide what's best for our kids" by issuing a statewide mask order.

"Make no mistake about it, this mask mandate is the first step towards returning to a full shutdown of our economy," Youngkin said on Aug. 12. "We must respect parents' right to decide what is best for their own children. If parents, teachers, and children want to wear a mask, they absolutely should do that, but there should not be a statewide school mask mandate."

Though Florida is facing one of the nation's worst COVID-19 crises, Youngkin has cited DeSantis on several occasions as a role model for his handling of the pandemic. On Aug. 6, the GOP nominee was asked by a right-wing talk show host if he would follow DeSantis' approach in threatening to cut off funding to schools that implement face mask requirements. Youngkin responded, "Yeah, I believe this should not be mask mandates in Virginia. I think these are decisions that should be up to individuals."

National Republicans have held up the anti-mask approach as a positive example of GOP leadership.

On Saturday, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel praised DeSantis for promoting expensive monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 patients, rather than implementing preventative measures. "This is smart leadership. Instead of pushing for mandates, Republican governors are getting people the treatments and resources they need," she tweeted.

But polls show the public strongly disagrees and firmly backs masks for students. An Axios-Ipsos survey released Tuesday showed 69% of U.S. adults support mandatory mask use in schools, including 92% of Democrats, 67% of independents, and 44% of Republicans. Just 33% backed DeSantis-style laws to prevent local mask requirements.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.