There’s usually a big issue or bigger personality beyond the control of any candidate’s campaign that shapes Virginia’s statewide elections.

In 2013, it was the “ick factor,” as two unpopular candidates — Terry McAuliffe (D) and Ken Cuccinelli II (R) — flung mud and gore at one another as the incumbent they sought to replace, Robert F. McDonnell (R), sank in the mire of an ethics scandal.

What’s driving this year’s elections? There are a few candidates for the “big issue,” including education and public safety.

Let’s start with education. And let’s start at the beginning: the state constitution. Article VIII says the government “shall seek to ensure that an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained.”

How do the candidates propose to do that?

For McAuliffe, it begins with buzzwords such as “world class” and “equitable.” The former governor wants to pour an additional $2 billion into public education. More money for education is a Democratic staple and, arguably, it’s the right place to start for anyone seeking to comply with the Article VIII wording.

But a lot of that money looks like it would go to teacher pay. That may be necessary to secure the teacher vote. But spending money on, say, fixing up the commonwealth’s aged public school infrastructure? There’s nothing in the long-form plan about it. But fear not, kids! McAuliffe wants to get everyone online, so there’s no need to haul kids into a school building that may be unsafe.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin’s education proposals appear to be aimed squarely at producers of Fox News shows rather than Article VIII. There are mentions of his opposition to the right’s new boogeyman, critical race theory (coupled with cancel culture, because why not?). There’s an entire news release devoted to Youngkin’s support of Leesburg Elementary School gym teacher Tanner Cross, who was suspended (and later reinstated) for saying he would refuse to address transgender students with their preferred pronouns should the school board require it.

Here and there, Youngkin talks about quality education. He’s made a few passing references to school choice, but he’s made no mention of public school infrastructure needs. There’s time to add some real substance here, but the early indications are that Youngkin is less interested in policy than in booking his next Tucker Carlson appearance.

How about public safety?

There’s still smoke billowing around the Virginia Parole Board. A recent report cleared the Northam administration of meddling in the release of an inspector general’s report on a controversial parole decision. But the report did not look at the board’s actions — by design. That means there are plenty of unanswered questions. As the Roanoke Times editorial board wrote, “This Democratic-backed inquiry underscores a Republican point: It reveals just enough questionable behavior to merit a full investigation.”

That gives Youngkin an opening. He will need it, because the rest of his public safety proposals are nothing new (including more money for cops) and include a lot that’s utterly wrong (opposition to reform of qualified immunity).

McAuliffe is not ducking public safety. But he’s taking the approach of restoring felons’ civil rights and expanding parole. The result is a classic soft- versus tough-on-crime choice.

As for “bigger personality,” there are a few shadows, but nothing solid. Former president Donald Trump is spinning his webs and tall tales in Florida. Democrats are working very hard to pin Trump, their favorite boogeyman, to Youngkin. They may yet succeed, but it feels forced and more than a little desperate.

As for the Republicans, it’s all a failed Northam-McAuliffe duopoly, plus a dash of socialism, all the time. And contrary to Youngkin strategist Jeff Roe, McAuliffe is neither Boss Tweed nor Tom Pendergast.

He’s the former governor of Virginia. Campaign against him accordingly.