It’s been nearly three years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and Republicans are turning unpopular mandates and lockdowns imposed by Democrats into a political vulnerability ahead of the midterm elections.
In races across the country, GOP candidates have accused Democrats of needlessly shutting down schools and businesses, forcing COVID vaccines on the public and firing workers who don’t comply, and violating parental rights by advocating children wear masks and receive the jab as a requisite to attend school.
And they’ll do it again, Republicans warn.
The issue has taken center stage in the New York gubernatorial race, where a late surge by Republican Lee Zeldin is seriously threatening Democratic incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul’s attempt to win her first full term.
During their only debate, Ms. Hochul gave a vague answer when asked if she backs a COVID vaccine mandate for public schools.
The question came in the wake of new CDC guidelines recommending the vaccine’s inclusion in the 2023 immunization schedule for children.
“Not at this time,” Ms. Hochul said. “I’m going to talk about parental control over this, but I’d also say it’s something that comes down to the legislature. The legislature makes the determination in consultation with health experts for next year.”
Mr. Zeldin seized on her ambiguous response.
“My opponent just said she will not mandate vaccines at this time,” he said. “Let me be clear to all the parents who are out there. I will not mandate COVID vaccines for your kids, ever.”
Republicans have wielded strict COVID policies endorsed by Democrats as a weapon in races across the country, particularly in swing states where the GOP is seeking an edge in a divided electorate.
In Georgia, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp attacked Democratic opponent Stacey Abrams for endorsing lengthy lockdowns and mask mandates, which he largely eschewed while serving his first term.
“Stacey Abrams said I was wrong to send people back to work, to give them the opportunity to make that choice themselves to live to fight another day,” Mr. Kemp told a crowd at a recent campaign stop.
Georgia is among 21 states that ban student COVID-19 vaccine mandates, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy.
In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’s anti-mandate stance has boosted him as he fends off Democratic challenger Charlie Crist. And he hammered Mr. Crist on the issue in a recent debate.
“Charlie Crist wants to force students to get the COVID shot,” Mr. DeSantis said. “We passed a bill to prevent that. He opposed the bill when we did it. I think this is a parent’s decision. I think it’s wrong to force this on these kids. And as long as I’m governor, as parents, you’re gonna have the ability to make that decision.”
The Nevada gubernatorial race between Democratic incumbent Gov. Steve Sisolak and Republican Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo is also tight. Mr. Sisolak has yet to reveal if he plans to require COVID-19 vaccines for school children.
Mr. Lombardo echoed his fellow GOP candidates.
“As governor, I will never mandate the COVID vaccine for children in Nevada,” he said on Twitter. “I trust parents to make the best decision for their children — period.”