Analysis: Candidates who fought 'critical race theory' prevailed — in rich, white areas

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One conservative political action committee focused on races in some of the wealthiest and least diverse parts of the country.

Concerns about so-called "critical race theory" have dominated the conversation around the Nov. 2 elections that took place across the country.

In reality, "critical race theory" (or CRT) is an academic framework used to explain the persistence of racial inequality in the United States. It is mainly used in colleges and universities — not in K-12 public schools.

That hasn't stopped conservative activists, politicians, and media from co-opting the phrase and using it as a catch-all term to take issue with public schools teaching students about the United States' history of slavery, segregation, and other forms of racial discrimination.

This was most pronounced in the Virginia governor's race, which Republican Glenn Youngkin won after stoking the right's war on public school curricula in the final stretch of the campaign. Youngkin came from behind to beat Democratic former Gov. Terry McAuliffe after trailing in polling by as much as 9% in the weeks leading up to Election Day.

At the local level, conservatives around the country have politicized once-sleepy, non-partisan school board races, transforming them into hotbeds of conflict over COVID-19 safety measures and teachings around race and gender identity.

In May, Ryan Girdusky, a conservative political consultant, launched The 1776 Project PAC, a conservative political action committee.

Girdusky told Axios his goal for the group "is to help raise awareness and campaign on behalf of school board candidates nationwide who reject the divisive philosophy of critical race theory and want to push it out of our public schools."

The group, which has raised $437,881, endorsed 55 school board candidates this year. Of those candidates, 38 won, 13 lost, and four are currently in races that are still too close to call.

"We ran in red, purple, and blue districts and won across all of them," the group tweeted on Election Night. "Huge Victories across the country and this is just the beginning."

Youngkin’s victory and strong results from groups like the 1776 Project seemed to confirm the idea, held by many Republican leaders and strategists, that campaigning against critical race theory will be a central, and winning, issue for the GOP in elections to come.

But demographic data shows that such campaigns may have limited appeal.

The school board races where the 1776 Project PAC endorsed candidates were in disproportionately white and wealthy districts, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's demographic and population estimates.

All of the group's 55 endorsed candidates ran in districts that are whiter than the national average. Only one — Natalie Marose in Bloomington, Minnesota — ran for school board in a district that was significantly more diverse than their state overall. Marose lost her race.

The group also primarily endorsed candidates running in wealthy areas. The average median income of districts where 1776 Project-endorsed candidates won was more than $91,000, markedly higher than the Census' figure for national median household income in 2019, $68,703, and well within the top 20th income percentile nationwide.

Typical victories for the 1776 Project’s candidates came in places like Douglas County, Colorado, where a slate of four self-identified conservative candidates won election after the school board became the site of a contentious race that drew hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending. Douglas County School District has a median household income of $120,130 and is 82% white.

Voters in Lansing, Kansas, which is 73% white with a median household income of $94,149, elected three 1776-backed candidates, including Amy Cawvey, a local mother of three who told Fox News she was running to "keep CRT out of our schools." After her victory, Cawvey called school boards the "last line of defense" against critical race theory.

Conservatives found another win in Goochland County, Virginia, where the median household income is $93,994 and where 78% of the population is white. There, conservative school board candidate Angela Small Allen successfully unseated incumbent school board member Billie Jo B. Leabough. Allen won by fewer than 200 votes.

"We are in charge of parenting our children, not the progressive radicals that are trying to indoctrinate them," Allen told Fox News' Laura Ingraham after her victory.

The 1776 Project PAC endorsed just seven candidates in districts where the median household income was lower than the state's median household income. Six of them won in three districts, and all three districts — Mesa County, Colorado; Shenandoah County, Virginia; and Alexandria, Minnesota — are all substantially whiter than average.

With a median household income of just under $38,000, Henry County, Virginia, was the poorest district where the group endorsed a candidate. Their candidate — local businessman and former Trump campaign photographer Ray Reynolds — lost to the incumbent.

These findings echo other demographic analyses of areas where anxieties around critical race theory took center stage this year. A recent NBC News analysis found that counties that are "diversifying rapidly" have seen a backlash over school initiatives to become more culturally inclusive.

The 1776 Project PAC's name is an apparent reference to The 1619 Project, a series on the history of slavery in the United States first published by The New York Times Magazine in 2019. The project "aims to reframe the country's history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative."

"Help us overturn any teaching of the 1619 project or critical race theory," the 1776 Project PAC's website reads. "Let's bring back Patriotism and Pride in our American History."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.