While campaigning for Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, last week, US Vice President Kamala Harris told voters that the result would echo far beyond their state.
“What happens in Virginia will largely determine what happens in 2022, 2024 and beyond,” she told fans. Now, less than a week later, Democrats in Washington and across the United States are concerned that Harris was right.
Republican newcomer Glenn Youngkin, former co-CEO of private equity group Carlisle, Virginia won by two points over McAuliffe, the veteran Democrat and former governor. Although polls suggested a tight race, the result was a stunning defeat in a state where Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by 10 points just a year ago.
Incumbent Phil Murphy narrowly won a second gubernatorial race in New Jersey, after an extended vote count — a more controversial outcome for Democrats who assumed Murphy would sail easily for re-election against Republican opponent Jack Citarelli. Biden carried New Jersey by a 16-point margin in 2020.
“The bottom line is it’s about Biden,” said Kyle Kondik of the nonpartisan University of Virginia Center for Politics. “If the political environment is like this next year, you would expect the Republicans to win both the House and the Senate.”
The results paint a dire picture for the president’s party ahead of next year’s midterm elections, when control of Congress is within easy reach. Analysts said that if the swing against the Democrats is repeated next year, they will lose control of the House and Senate, which they control by tiny margins.
That would leave the president with little prospect of passing legislation as he heads into the second half of his four-year term and contemplates trying to be reelected in 2024.
Results in Virginia and New Jersey—along with a number of Democratic losses in other local elections—suggest that the party’s difficulty in holding on to voters is part of a national trend.
It comes as the president’s approval rating has plunged to its lowest levels, amid public discontent with rising consumer prices, the protracted Covid-19 pandemic and his handling of the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, lawmakers remain caught up in a protracted domestic war over Biden’s two-pronged legislative agenda: a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package and a revised $1.75 trillion “Build Back Better” plan to invest in childcare and care. Public health and climate initiatives.
Speaking from the White House on Wednesday afternoon, Biden urged Democrats to end the infighting and rally around his agenda to “get results” for Americans.
“People want us to get things done. They want us to get things done,” the president said. “People are upset and unsure of a lot of things. From Covid to school to jobs, to a whole host of things — and the cost of a gallon of gasoline.”
He added that if his economic agenda is signed into law, the United States will be “in a position where you will see a lot of these things improve very quickly and quickly.”
Many Democrats on Capitol Hill share this view. House Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi has vowed to move forward with a vote on both bills quickly. But divisions remain, including with moderate Senate Democrats, so the legislation’s fate remains unclear.
“the focus [for Democrats] “He should have to address public concerns and raise Biden’s approval ratings,” said Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “How do you do it? It’s easier said than done.”
On Wednesday, a Biden adviser noted that components of Biden’s economic agenda remained popular, and declined to give too much national importance to the results, saying that the midterms were still a year away and a lot could happen now and then.
But Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia who has been reluctant to take less spending measures, noted that the message for voters is to tread with caution.
“You better be very careful [about] “What do we do and how do we do it and make sure it is transparent, and that people know exactly what the results are going to be and what the intent is,” Manchin said. “The country is very divided.”
In Virginia, more than 3 million ballots were cast in the governor’s race, and the results indicated a particularly strong turnout in the state’s rural Republican areas, compared with a relatively low turnout in Democratic-leaning areas, such as the affluent suburbs around Washington, D.C. . The results – which were mirrored in other contests across the country – indicated a “gap in enthusiasm” between enthusiastic Republican voters and less-trained Democrats.
“After a big presidential victory, the winning party is satisfied and the losing party is angry,” said White Ayres, a Republican pollster. “You had a much higher turnout among people who voted for Trump in 2020 than people who voted for Biden in 2020.”
Democrats seem to think that just because they voted for Trump to impeach him in 2020, their job is done. said Mary Ann Marsh, a Boston-based democracy strategist. She added that rather than respond to Republican messages and “practice defence,” Democrats needed to better explain to voters what they were going to offer them.
“Democrats have to start to understand that,” Marsh said. “Play offensive, play ruthless and play hard, otherwise the Democrats will lose a lot of elections a year from now.”
Republicans celebrated the results on Wednesday, saying Yongkin had provided a handbook for their party heading into the midterm elections. The political novice walked a tightrope to appeal to the pro-Trump base of supporters while wooing independents who shunned the former president.
At the same time, Republicans said they have benefited from the voter’s broader disapproval of progressive left-wing politics. A referendum to disband the police force failed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Tuesday night, while in Buffalo, New York, a written Democrat defeated a Socialist candidate by 17 points in the mayoral race there.
“Republicans who run on issues that matter to the people, and who walk away from Donald Trump, can win in democratically oriented states in the post-Trump era,” said Ayres, the Republican pollster. “Most voters, even in northern cities, are a shouting distance from the center rather than the far left.”
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