Some Democratic officials, like Mr. Wolf in Pennsylvania, 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. The change in tactics is now a response to widespread vaccination, not politics, they say.
But Republican candidates have vowed to put the earlier shutdowns at the center of the school board’s races to governor in the Senate.
“They will pay the price in the next election,” said Lou Barletta, a Republican gubernatorial candidate from Pennsylvania who blames Democrats, rather than the virus, for business damage and learning loss. “No one will forget the businesses that couldn’t reopen or the people who lost their jobs. It does not erase from memory. Not to mention that a year of education has been stolen from our children.
In Virginia, Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s upset victory in November as a Republican was fueled in part by parents who were fed up with school closings and mask mandates for their children. Across the country, the long-term school closures, which have occurred disproportionately in Democratic-led states and cities, have put off even some progressive voters.
Kim McGair, a lawyer and normally staunch Democrat in Portland, Oregon, said she felt “completely betrayed” by her party, which she said had failed parents and students. “I will not vote for a Democrat who was silent or complicit in school closings, which is the vast majority of them here,” Ms McGair said. But she also can’t imagine herself voting for a Republican, a situation she describes as “politically homeless.”
In Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, imposed some of the strictest stay-at-home orders in the country at the start of the pandemic. Angry protesters who waved Tea Party flags at the State Capitol in April 2020, while former President Donald J. Trump tweeted “Free Michigan,” were one of the first signs of the politicization of the pandemic. .
Ms Whitmer, facing a deadly new wave of the virus in her state and an uphill fight for re-election this fall, was recently pressed to find out why she hadn’t issued new statewide orders. His response was defensive, but saying, “Like what?” she told a Detroit TV interviewer. The existence of vaccines meant the “blunt tools” used in 2020 to fight the pandemic were unnecessary, the governor said.