GOP takes a look at critical race theory in the suburbs for mid-term

Republicans are looking into the budding battle over critical race theory, betting the burning issue will not only energize their base, but help bring back some of the suburban voters they lost in the last election.

While the party has focused to varying degrees on several contentious cultural issues in the six months since President Joe Biden took office – ranging from restrictions linked to the coronavirus pandemic to transgender youth in sports to migrants at the border – Senior Republican officials and agents say critical race theory is among the topics likely to have a longer lifespan ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

They argue the problem can be targeted at key voting blocs, including suburban parents, and also fit into the GOP’s broader strategy of portraying Democrats who control Washington as moving too far to the left.

“In suburban areas, the number one cultural problem is critical race theory. The suburbs are on fire with anger, ”said Corry Bliss, a Republican strategist who works on races in Congress. “We are at the beginning of this problem, not at the end. “

Critical race theory is a concept that racism has been systematically entrenched in American society since the days of slavery. Once reserved for academia, the issue has grown in importance in recent months as racial justice movements continue across the country.

Conservatives often use it as an umbrella term to claim that public schools teach children liberal ideologies and that the United States is an inherently racist country.

Conservative Fox News mentioned Critical Race Theory 901 times on air in June, the Liberal Group Media affairs found, compared to 537 times in May and 226 times in April. At least seven Republican-led state legislatures this year passed legislation opposing the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 classes, according to the Brooking Institution.

And 137 school board officials were targeted by recall efforts in 2021, already double the total from last year, largely due to a critical backlash from race theory, according to a study. of Ballot.

Republicans are trying to harness that energy for next year’s midterms as they seek to take control of the United States House and Senate, where Democrats hold a slim majority.

“Critical race theory has so many legs right now,” Republican pollster Robert Blizzard said. “It combines the cultural frustration that GOP voters have nationally with local concerns.”

While critical race theory is animate the party baseRepublican officials say the issue will have wider appeal than other cultural corner issues because some parents see it as having a direct impact on their children’s education.

Republicans are focused on winning back the white suburban voters who got their college education and dropped out during former President Donald Trump’s tenure. A new study by Pew Research Center found that Biden won suburban voters by 11 percentage points in the 2020 election after Trump won them by two points in the 2016 election.

“All over the country, parents have mobilized because they do not want their children to learn that they are automatically racist because of their skin color. I expect Democrat support for this controversial theory to be at the center of the 2022 campaigns, ”Republican National Congressional Committee chairman Tom Emmer said in a statement to McClatchy. “The most compelling electoral issues are those that focus on the issue of fairness, and that is why critical race theory will be incredibly damaging to every vulnerable Democrat.”


Public polls suggest that most Americans do not have strong opinions on critical race theory, if they are not even familiar with it at all. A recent Morning Consult survey found that 52% of voters nationwide had never heard of critical race theory or had no opinion on it.

The subject has only been addressed sparingly in paid advertising. In the past three months, Critical Race Theory has only been explicitly mentioned in seven political TV and digital ads, according to data tracking company AdImpact provided McClatchy.

But Republicans say they expect that to change as the electoral cycle progresses, arguing that the more voters hear about critical race theory – still a relatively new problem in politics – more they are likely to oppose it.

“Critical race theory as a problem in itself, voters don’t know what it is from the get-go. But when they do, they are terrified of it, ”said Kristin Davison, GOP consultant. “Critical Race Theory is a tangible example that wakes people up, and it’s not just Republicans. It wakes up relapsing Republicans, independents and moderate Democrats.

The Morning Consult poll showed that 23% of all voters had a very negative opinion of critical race theory, while 8% had a very favorable opinion. Broken down by party, the survey found that 42% of Republicans and 25% of Independents had a very unfavorable opinion, compared to 5% of Democrats.

Republican officials and strategists also point out that while they predict the critical debate over racial theory will remain relevant, more traditional portfolio issues like taxes, spending and jobs will likely be a priority for voters in 2022. But they say economic and cultural issues can be linked to push Democrats out of the mainstream and need control of their power in Washington.

“It creates a narrative that Democrats have taken over and have not just moved to the left a bit, but are trying to radically change the direction of the country in a way that voters disagree with.” said Chris, spokesperson for the National Republican Senate Committee. Hartline.

Democratic strategists say they don’t expect critical race theory to resonate much outside the more ardent Republican voters. They highlight the GOP’s efforts in the recent elections to elevate wedge issues like immigration and crime to the wider electorate which has had limited success.

“They’re blowing it up a lot more than it really is,” Democratic pollster Paul Maslin said. “They play at their base. There are mixed results at best if it has the power to stay with the middle of the electorate. “

But given the country’s polarization, agents from both parties say volatile cultural issues in general are poised to play a bigger role in the upcoming elections.

“It’s basically a cultural cold war in the United States,” Blizzard said. “Critical race theory is now another point of contact. I think there will be more, not less.

Adam Wollner is associate editor in McClatchy’s Washington office, where he covers politics. He previously covered the 2018 and 2020 elections for McClatchy and Campaigns and Capitol Hill for the National Journal. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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