Mask debates generating sparks on campaign trail

Masking is already becoming a lightning rod on the midterm campaign trail as Americans approach two full years of living with the coronavirus pandemic.  

 Democratic leaders, most notably Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, have come under fire from Republicans in recent weeks over photos showing them unmasked amid a crowd of masked people — in Abrams’s case, masked children. Republicans have used those photos to accuse Democrats of hypocrisy and invoke the concerns about children and education that helped drive them to victory in several elections last year. 

 Democrats, on the other hand, are using images of Republicans unmasked in public places to accuse GOP officials of putting people in danger and threatening a fragile pandemic recovery. 

 Republican Georgia gubernatorial candidate David Perdue’s campaign on Monday rolled out a video hitting Abrams and incumbent Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) over the photo of her at a Black History Month event in a classroom full of students wearing face masks.  

 “This is the Georgia Stacey Abrams wants,” the 16-second spot says. “This is the reality Brian Kemp has allowed. Unmask our kids.”   

The photo of Abrams, with the caption “Unmask our kids,’’ was Perdue’s banner photo on his Twitter page Monday.  

 Abrams’s campaign said she wore a mask to the event and took it off while speaking so students tuning in remotely could hear her and for photos as long as other students were masked.  

 The backlash comes as two Northeastern states, New Jersey and Delaware, announced school mask mandates would be lifted on March 7 and March 31, respectively.  

 Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) also faced backlash Monday from Republicans for posing maskless for a selfie in front of a crowd of masked supporters at a campaign event.  

 The National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) called Slotkin hypocritical in a statement dubbed “Slotkin pulls an Abrams” on Monday.  

 “Elissa Slotkin supports mask mandates for everyone but herself. She is a complete hypocrite,” NRCC spokesman Mike Berg said.

 Other photos from the event, which took place in Michigan, where there is no longer a statewide mask mandate, showed Slotkin masked.

  “The reality is, life is going back to normal in certain adult sectors but it’s not going back to normal for their kids and that’s what’s most frustrating for them,” said Andrew Romeo, a spokesman for the conservative State Government Leadership Fund (SGLF). “You see adults in situations where they don’t have to be wearing masks, but that same situation doesn’t apply for their children.”  

 The SGLF and N2America, another conservative group, released an ad tying Democratic figures to school closures and mask requirements for students in the classroom, part of a six-figure national campaign launched last year.

 The 30-second ad, titled “Childhood,” shows a montage of clips of children watching adults attend crowded and maskless gatherings juxtaposed with masked children sitting in socially distanced classrooms. The ad has garnered more than 500,000 organic views since it was rolled out on Thursday.  

 The GOP strategy mirrors the strategy used by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) in 2021, when he campaigned on giving parents a greater say in their children’s education and whether they should wear a mask in the classroom.   

 “What this comes back to is just a broader issue on parental empowerment and parents frustrated that they are not the ones in control of their kids’ education,” Romeo said.  

 Youngkin himself has been the target of attacks over not wearing a mask. 

 Last week, Youngkin appeared at an Alexandria, Va., grocery store for an event, prompting one cashier to ask, “Governor, where’s your mask?” 

 “We’re all making choices today,” Youngkin responded.  

 “Yeah, look around you, governor, you’re in Alexandria,” the cashier yelled. “Read the room, buddy!” 

 Video of the incident quickly went viral and was touted by Youngkin’s critics on the left.  

 Youngkin’s office doubled down on his remarks about choosing to wear a mask in a statement on Friday.  

 “The governor often says if you want to wear a mask, wear a mask, but in Virginia you get to choose,” his spokesperson, Macaulay Porter, said in a statement on Friday.  

 The incident took place hours before Youngkin’s executive order giving parents the authority to determine whether their children should wear masks in school was temporarily blocked by a Virginia judge.  

 “Glenn Youngkin is the model for a Republican whose campaign promises have run smack dab into reality,” said veteran Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson. “He ran claiming to be a champion of parents and now he’s in lawsuits against schools all across Virginia.”  

 Democrats argue that the pro-mask approach is the best way to safely return to normal life in a post-pandemic world.  

 “People see masks as a way to help combat the pandemic,” Ferguson said. “Republicans have put themselves in the place of not being for returning to normal, but rather for returning to the worst moments of these last two years.”  

 A Monmouth University survey released last week showed that 52 percent of respondents said they were in favor of reinstituting face mask and social distancing guidelines in their home states. The poll showed a stark partisan divide: Eighty-five percent of Democrats surveyed were in favor of mask and social distancing guidelines, while 73 percent of Republicans were opposed. 

 “The rhetoric and reality when it comes to public health doesn’t serve Republicans well,” Ferguson said. “The more people see how Republicans would handle the public health crisis, the more worrisome.”  

 However, strategists say, with vaccinations and boosters readily available and the virus continuing to mutate, it’s impossible to tell how this issue will pan out as the midterm campaign cycle kicks into high gear later this year.  

 “It’s a little hard to know because we don’t know where we’ll be with the pandemic come this summer and fall,” Ferguson said.  

Tags Brian Kemp coronavirus covid-19 mask masking wear democrats republicans gop campaign trail stacey abrams elissa slotkin schools glenn youngkin David Perdue Elissa Slotkin Glenn Youngkin
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