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Fight Over Toni Morrison Novel Inflames Virginia Governor’s Race

This year, Mr. Youngkin is centering his closing messaging on what he calls “parents’ rights” — an all-encompassing rubric for conservative causes like opposing mask mandates, vaccine requirements and transgender rights, and stoking fears about the way race is taught in the schools.

For months, the conservative media have lavished national attention on local events in suburban Loudoun County, Va., including a sexual assault case that revived Republican criticism of gender-inclusive bathroom policies in schools, and the suspension of a physical education teacher who refused to address transgender students by the pronouns that they identified with. Conservatives have also falsely claimed that Virginia schools are teaching “critical race theory,” an advanced academic concept that is not part of classroom instruction in the state.

Polling indicates that those themes have resonated with conservative voters in Virginia.

“I don’t have any school-aged kids, but I’m a big believer that parents certainly do have say in what their kids should learn,” Tom Allen, 64, a retired airline pilot from Herndon, Va., said as he headed into a community center to cast an early vote for Mr. Youngkin on Monday. “I don’t think somebody should be jamming a political opinion down these little kids’ throats.”

Yet Democrats, too, have discerned an opportunity to energize their supporters — by painting Mr. Youngkin, who opposes abortion rights, as a threat not just to women’s control over their bodies but to the schools’ ability to shape young minds.

“He’s gone from banning a woman’s right to choose to banning books by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author,” President Biden said of the Republican candidate at a rally with Mr. McAuliffe in Arlington on Tuesday night.

There, McAuliffe staff members handed out copies of “Beloved” and other books by Ms. Morrison, along with bookmarks proclaiming that Mr. Youngkin would “ban books in Virginia schools.” Liberal television hosts quickly scheduled interviews with scholars who extolled the importance of her work.

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