NORFOLK, Va. - When Laura Murphy says her son was assigned to read the book "Beloved" in an AP English class at a Fairfax County high school, the graphic content left him with nightmares.
"When my son showed me his reading assignment, my heart sunk," Murphy says in a new ad for Republican candidate for Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin.
The new ad garnered more than a million views on Twitter in about a day and highlights what's become a big topic ahead in Youngkin's campaign against Democrat Terry McAuliffe - schools.
"Beloved" is a 1987 book by the late Toni Morrison and details the brutality of slavery.
Murphy didn't think her son should have to read the book and took her fight to the General Assembly. Lawmakers passed two bills that could've let parents opt out of assignments if there is sexual material in them, but McAuliffe vetoed both bills, saying at the time they went too far.
Democrats fired back against the ad in a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday, saying Youngkin is focusing on culture war issues and wants to ban books from the classroom.
"He's encouraging censorship. Virginia, we've come too far to let Glenn Youngkin take us back," said Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.
They say there is already a process in place to handle school curriculum issues: Locally elected school boards.
"What's a better place to face challenging material than in the classroom? We are preparing our children for the world," said former Virginia Del. Debra Rodman.
Republicans responded as well, doubling down that the bills had bipartisan support and would've been beneficial for students and parents.
"These are attacks on our Virginia parents and the rights of parents to be involved in their children's education. It's frankly disgusting, and it's terrible," said AC Cordoza, a Republican running for House of Delegates in the 91st District.
The issue has been a flashpoint at school board meetings in Hampton Roads and around the country, especially for Republicans.
Related: Local bookstores sell out of Dr. Seuss titles after 6 books discontinued for 'hurtful' depictions
"This has become a major issue to galvanize around here in the Commonwealth, but I believe it's also going to be one of the major issues to galvanize voters in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections," said Dr. Eric Claville, a political analyst from Norfolk State University.
Click here for our full guide on the 2021 Virginia elections.