The suburbs have become a major political battleground in the United States, as white, college-educated voters have shifted their allegiance to the Democratic Party and more diverse populations have moved in. However, the Democratic Party's approval ratings have been declining both nationally and in Virginia, with Governor Terry McAuliffe and his advisors attributing this to the prolonged legislative negotiations. President Joe Biden and the Democratic congressional leaders have been focusing their efforts on the social spending plan and the infrastructure bill, which was passed by the Senate in August. Under the American Enterprise Institute—Brookings Working Group on Paid Family Leave, which includes people from both Democratic and Republican administrations, a different approach to designing a federal paid leave policy has been proposed.
During the last legislative session, Delegate Elizabeth Guzman protested against Virginia's ratification of the equal rights amendment (the bill didn't pass, but Democrats may try again next year). Currently, paid family leave is granted in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island, with policies soon to be implemented in New York State and the District of Columbia. Democrats are trying to maintain their support from independent voters who had already been leaning towards them last year. This has not been successful in Virginia, according to Dan Sena, former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The increasing number of women joining the workforce, single parents and parents who want to be more involved with their children are driving interest in this topic. Governor McAuliffe has expressed his frustration with these deliberations and has urged Democrats in Washington to take action. The Democrats' concern about President Biden's falling approval ratings, the slow progress of his agenda and their difficulty in selling his achievements has been highlighted by candidates, party officials and strategists who fear that the mistakes made in the race for governor of Virginia could be repeated in next year's midterm elections. Joel Benenson, pollster for Biden's 2020 campaign who now works for the Democratic National Committee and other Biden allies, said that while Republican attacks on critical racial theory are unlikely to succeed, Democrats need to provide a stronger response than they have so far to show that they are on the side of parents.
Generally speaking, parental leave policies have benefited Democrats politically but polls in Virginia show a dramatic change in attitude. Democrats are worried that their usual challenges outside of an election year have been exacerbated by long and complicated paths to infrastructure and national policy bills which have not resulted in any electoral backlash for Republican attacks on other issues but have instead drawn attention to internal Democratic struggles. Some Biden allies point out that due to the narrow Democratic majorities in Congress and the wide range of opinions within their ranks it was inevitable that Biden would be involved in complex negotiations for months as he could not afford any defections in the Senate or few in the House of Representatives.
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