Some Democratic office holders say they are ready to defend their actions, noting that by closing businesses and schools, they have slowed the spread of the coronavirus and saved lives. But Republican candidates have vowed to put the closures at the center of races from school board to governor to the Senate.
“They will pay the price in the next election,” said Lou Barletta, a Republican nominee for governor in Pennsylvania who blames Democrats for corporate damage and learning loss. “No one will forget companies that couldn’t open or people who lost their jobs. That will not be erased from memory. Not to mention that a year of education has been stolen from our children.”
In Virginia, Governor Glenn Youngkin’s upset victory as a Republican in November was fueled in part by parents tired of school closures and mask mandates for their children. Across the country, prolonged school closures, which have happened disproportionately in Democrat-ruled states and cities, have even put some progressive voters out.
Kim McGair, a lawyer and normally staunch Democrat in Portland, Oregon, said she felt “utterly betrayed” by her party, which she believes have abandoned parents and students. “I will not vote for a Democrat who was silent or complicit in school closures, and that is the vast majority of them here,” Ms McGair said. But she also can’t imagine voting for a Republican, a situation she describes as “politically homeless.”
In Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, imposed some of the country’s toughest stay-at-home orders early in the pandemic. Angry protesters waving Tea Party flags at the State Capitol in April 2020 while former President Donald J. Trump tweeted “Liberate Michigan” was one of the first signs of politicization of the pandemic.
Ms Whitmer, faced with another deadly wave of the virus in her state and a tough reelection battle this fall, was recently pressured over why she had not issued new state-wide orders. Her response was defensive, but she said, “Like what?” she told a Detroit TV interviewer. The existence of vaccines meant that the “blunt tools” used in 2020 to fight the pandemic were unnecessary, the governor said.
While broad closures and mandates are off the table in many places — sometimes due to court rulings — Democrats have recently used other tools, including aggressively promoting vaccines, opening testing centers and deploying strike teams to besieged hospitals.