What does Youngkin’s victory in Virginia’s gubernatorial race mean for Democrats?
The alarming thunder could not have been louder for the Democrats.
Some in the party had high hopes that his rule in Washington would extend beyond the midterm elections next year. But Tuesday’s Republican Resurgence The astonishing strength in Virginia — a state that President Biden won by 10 percentage points last year — and solid blue New Jersey provide a clear warning of storm clouds gathering as Democrats watch warily on the horizon.
For five years, the party won a record-breaking turnout, fueled by voters’ passion to remove a president they saw as incompetent, divisive, or worse. Tuesday’s results showed the limits of such resistance politics when the object of resistance fell out of power, the Democrats’ failure to deliver on their biggest campaign promises, and a still-boiling fury over a pandemic that has left schools some of the nation’s most vulnerable. turned into a divisive political battleground.
In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, won a surprisingly close race after hoping to coast to victory. In Minneapolis, voters rejected a ballot pushed by progressives that would have replaced the police department with a public security department.
Perhaps most shockingly, the crushing blow for Democrats in heavily suburban Virginia and New Jersey prompted a conservative-strong response to changing customs around the race and identity championed by the party, as Republicans continued to There was a demand to convert schools into the next front. Culture War.
For Democrats, the result of the nation’s biggest vote by the midterm next year has raised the alarm that the wave of anti-Trump energy that took them to power has engulfed in apathy in a base that is tired of protesting and quite has gone back to the extent of brunch or, what would be even more politically dangerous, that the party’s motivation has been replaced by a sense of dissatisfaction with the state of a country that, despite all of Mr. Biden’s campaign promises, has Haven’t returned to the pre-covid sense yet. of normal condition.
In the coming days, Democratic concerns and accusations over the party’s defeat in Virginia – the marquee race of the off-year elections – will resonate from those suburban swing districts to Capitol Hill, as the midterm map expands into areas that were once safe for Democrats. Were considered.
Even before the race was officially called for Mr Youngkin, Democratic strategists were calling on his party to investigate whether continuing to focus on Mr Trump was the best strategy, especially after an election. The latter in which Mr Biden promised his supporters he would not need to think or think about the round-the-clock drama of the previous administration.
“Democrats need to seriously consider how we chose to engage with the Trump narrative,” said Democratic strategist Dan Cena. Who helped the party win the House in 2018. “This was an election where Democrats weren’t bracing for their achievements in Virginia or on the national level. And as we look to 2022, we’re going to have to ask some tough questions about whether this is the right strategy.
Off-year elections have never been a true predictor of future success. And even before the Virginia race tightened in late August, the national environment looked ominous for Democrats, who could lose seats in redistribution and the president’s party’s historic tally of losing seats during his first term in office. trend can be countered.
But in a state where elections are tied to national politics because of its proximity to Washington, it is difficult to separate Mr. McAuliffe’s defeat from the administration’s deteriorating views. A week before Election Day, potential voters in Virginia disapproved of Biden’s job performance by 53 percent to 46 percent, according to a Washington Post-Shar school poll. Forty percent of voters in the state strongly disapproved of the president’s performance, while only 21 percent strongly approved.
Even more worrying for Democrats: A significant majority now believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.
Republicans argue that Democrats and Mr. McAuliffe’s campaign failed to address what is behind the declining sentiment: increased costs of groceries and gas due to inflation; constant frustration with schools; supply chain challenges; and crime.
“When you look at the horizon for next year, the red wave is coming,” said Cory Bliss, a top Republican strategist working for several congressional candidates, who said that Democrats in Washington were “those things. We’re not fighting about what normal people care about.”
As the country’s political pendulum appeared to be swinging back to the right, Republicans said their party had hit on a playbook for their candidates to repeat in the midterm race.
Democrats argue that history worked against McAuliffe. The candidate of the party that did not occupy the White House has won the Virginia governor’s mansion in 10 of the last 11 elections. The only exception: Mr McAuliffe, who overcame that pattern to win his first term in 2013. Nevertheless, the Republicans won the midterms a year later and took over Congress.
In those 2014 races, the weakest Democrats ran from President Barack Obama, hoping to save their seat by distancing themselves from his agenda. Given the widespread belief among congressional Democrats that the party’s fortunes are tied to the person at the top, there is little hope that those dynamics will repeat next year.
And yet self-preservation remains one of the most powerful forces in politics, leading many strategists to despair that the party will unite around a central approach as Democrats increasingly panic in the competitive midterm race.
Highlights of the 2021 elections
Moderate Democrats argued that the defeat was a sign that Congress should immediately pass the party’s infrastructure bill, even if it had anything to do with a shrunken version of Biden’s legislative agenda. Leftists blame the party’s failure to advance a broader agenda, which includes reversing filibuster, to pass liberal priorities such as a bill protecting the right to vote. And political strategists fear the party is failing to adequately explain what Democrats have already done to help the Covid-ravaged country and why they haven’t taken on issues important to their base.
“I am concerned, honestly,” said Adrian Shropshire, executive director of BlackPack, a Super PAC that aims to energize black voters. He said voters of color are frustrated by Democrats’ inability to pass legislation on issues such as voting rights and criminal justice. “People don’t want what’s happening and why, by telling them everything is great.”
Yet when Mr McAuliffe urged the White House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pass the infrastructure bill, he took a far less aggressive approach to another issue: schools.
With their focus on “parental rights” — a catchy rallying cry that captured conservative outrage over mask mandates, vaccination requirements, transgender rights, and how the history of racism is taught — Republicans found an issue that struck a chord with them. Activated voters, united the politics of white grievance. Trump bases with widespread anger over schooling during the pandemic.
Even though Mr Youngkin offered little to address the endemic problems facing education that have been worsened by the coronavirus, schools became the campaign’s central battlefield for potential voters in the final week of the race. rivaling the economy as the most important issue. According to surveys.
By promising almost every campaign a ban on Critical Race Theory, an advanced educational concept not taught in Virginia schools, Mr. Youngkin revived a Republican race-baiting strategy in a state that was once the capital of the Union. acted as.
McAuliffe dismissed those arguments and promised to put more than $2 billion annually into Virginia schools. Some Democrats say the approach was inadequate given the spurious claims about classroom instruction on race by conservative media, as well as widespread frustration among parents about schooling during the pandemic.
Instead of grappling with those thorny problems, Democrats back their best motivator: Mr. Trump.
Mr McAuliffe’s campaign said that even out of office, the former president remained the Democrats’ most powerful weapon, a race widely expected to determine which party could best motivate its base. Mr Youngkin, a wool-vest-wearing businessman, became “Trump in khaki” in McAuliffe’s phrases, and his support for Trumpian issues such as “electoral integrity” became the centerpiece of the Democratic pitch.
When Mr Biden arrived in Virginia for a campaign rally a week before Election Day, he trained his fire heavily on Mr Trump, barely mentioning his own agenda. The remarkable tableau of a president dedicating his bully pulpit to the man he defeated only served to underline how little positive message Democrats were sending to voters.
“It’s been a negative Trump-focused scare tactics campaign, and I think the top line is the downfall of that,” said Trey Easton, a senior adviser at Battle Born Collective, a progressive advocacy group. “You cannot scare people in elections. You have to give something for people to vote for.”
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