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Democrats just took a shellacking in last night’s elections, in a warning sign of the stiff headwinds they face heading into the 2022 midterms.
Republican Glenn Youngkin won Virginia’s hotly contested gubernatorial election, the first time the GOP has won that governorship since 2009, and part of a Republican sweep of the commonwealth’s statewide offices. New Jersey’s gubernatorial race is still too close to call, when Democrats were confident they’d win. And Republicans swept Pennsylvania’s statewide judicial elections, including a victory for a Supreme Court seat in the key swing state.
It’s not just the statewide offices that should have Democrats nervous. They also were defeated in a number of local races on Long Island, New York.
The overall results show that Republicans are pissed off, turning out in huge numbers, and on the march heading into the 2022 midterms as they seek to take back the House, the Senate, and a bevy of governorships and other offices around the country.
Virginia’s election was the most closely watched of the night—and Youngkin’s win came after he ran hard on critical race theory and schools issues while separating himself from former President Donald Trump, who remains unpopular with swing voters in the commonwealth.
Democrats immediately began infighting, with progressives and centrists blaming each other for the election results. Some in both wings of the party sought to tie Democrats’ bad night with their ongoing struggles to pass major legislation through Congress. National frustrations with the impact of the COVID-19 Delta surge, supply-chain problems, and rising prices likely played a role in these races too.
But the results from other states show that it’s silly to focus on the particular details of one race. And while various beltway Democrats are already arguing the losses show their party must do exactly what they’ve been advocating all along on specific policies, those claims should be taken with a mountain of salt. New Jersey Republican nominee Jack Ciattarelli’s biggest issue was property taxes. The Long Island races, if they turned on anything, turned on bail reform. The national environment simply is a brutal one for Democrats, with a fired-up GOP base and unhappy independent voters combining for a tidal wave that high turnout on the left simply can’t block. What really matters: President Biden’s polling numbers are abysmal right now, Republicans are fired up, and independents aren’t happy with the president or his party.
Turnout was sky-high in New Jersey and Virginia. Murphy won a 14-point blowout four years ago with slightly more than 1.2 million votes; this year, he’s almost at that number with 85% of the vote counted but led by just 6,000 total votes. Republicans saw an incredible surge in turnout, from fewer than 900,000 votes in 2017 to at least 1.2 million this year.
Virginia was the same. With 99% of the vote counted, McAuliffe received more than 1.6 million votes—200,000 more than Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam won four years ago in his 9-point blowout victory. But Youngkin won almost 1.7 million votes—up from the 1.2 million votes that Republican Ed Gillespie won in 2017.
The turnout surge was especially high in rural, conservative areas, where Democrats fell to new lows in a bevy of counties that they simply couldn’t offset with strong voter turnout elsewhere.
Still, governor’s races generally aren’t as good of a barometer of the national mood as federal races, because they more often turn on local issues. Democrats’ gubernatorial victories in Kentucky and Louisiana in 2019 didn’t say much about where the 2020 elections were heading in those states, for instance.
And Youngkin and Ciattarelli managed to find enough space from Trump to run their own campaigns—both weren’t nearly as Trumpy as other GOP candidates running in their primaries. Top GOP candidates in many other states aren’t even trying to do that, and could cost them suburban votes.
But Virginia has long been a strong barometer for the national political mood—and combined with Tuesday’s other results, Democrats should be alarmed.
The party that sits in the White House has lost all but one of Virginia’s gubernatorial races in the last half-century—and almost always faces fierce headwinds in a president’s first midterm. The results of the GOP’s strong 2009 and 2013 elections foreshadowed brutal midterms for President Obama’s party, just as Democrats’ big wins in 2017 presaged the 2018 blue wave.
Right now, the political pendulum appears to be swinging hard to the right, and it’s not clear what, if anything, Democrats can do about it in the next year.