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Crime and Parole as Campaign Weapons

McAuliffe says crime was low when he was in office. Youngkin says the former governor made Virginia less safe.
McAuliffe says crime was low when he was in office. Youngkin says the former governor made Virginia less safe.

Glenn Youngkin has secured endorsements from a number of county sheriffs, and one of his TV ads features a Richmond police officer who – thirty years before Terry McAuliffe took office -- was shot in the head.

“I spent years trying to heal those emotional and physical wounds," she says as haunting music plays in the background. "Every few years I have to rip those wounds open again, to plead with the members of Terry McAuliffe’s parole board to keep the man who tried to kill me off the streets. I’m terrified because McAuliffe puts politics over the safety of Virginians and victims’ rights. Terry McAuliffe’s hand-picked parole board has one mission -- cut them loose.”

The Washington Post awarded the ad two Pinnochios. When McAuliffe was in office the prisoner in question was eligible for but denied parole twice, and the candidate defends his record on crime.

“When I was governor, I had the lowest crime rate of any major state," he recalls. "I continually funded our sheriffs. I got a thousand sheriffs off of SNAP benefits. I invested in our law enforcement, our state police.”

At James Madison University, political scientist Bob Roberts says law and order has been a useful issue for Republicans for decades. In 1993, for example, a proposal to abolish parole for most inmates helped elect George Allen as Governor.

“He was behind about 15 points in the polls in August and by the end of October he was ahead by 15 points,” Roberts says.

The idea was especially persuasive with suburban voters worried about a spike in drug-related crime.

“People fled to the suburban areas for economic reason, but they also fled to get away from perceived crime,” he explains.

And this year the GOP is hoping to bring those suburban voters back to the Republican Party after Donald Trump drove them away. In 2021 Roberts says crime is not a big concern for residents of Virginia suburbs, but fear is a useful tactic in getting some people to vote.

“Right now we’re voting because we’re scared," says Roberts. "We’re not voting for someone, we’re voting against somebody. And so if you look at all the radio ads and TV ads and social media ads, they’re saying why you can’t vote for this person, because this person will do nasty things to you. It’s not what they’re going to do for you, it’s what they’re going to do to you, and that’s what American politics has become.”

Glenn Youngkin recently tweeted that he oppose reinstating parole, adding that Terry McAuliffe’s “parole for all” approach has failed Virginia and made our communities less safe.

McAuliffe is proud of restoring the vote to people convicted of felonies, but during a six month period, his parole board freed just 78 prisoners, while denying 1,265, and when we asked candidate McAuliffe if he’d restore parole, he changed the subject.

“You know I restored more felon rights than any governor in the history of the United States of America," he began. "I want to lift everybody up, give everybody opportunities, give everybody second chances, + so I am all about justice. I want everybody in Virginia to have a great opportunity. I want to build the best economy as I did before as governor.”

Of course, some political scientists figure McAuliffe will win this election, because Virginia is now a blue state, Roberts insists it could go red if Republicans do a better job of getting voters to the polls than Democrats.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief