What Both Parties Should Learn From This Week's Elections As They Prepare for Battle in the 2022 Mid-Terms.
Virginia Governor-Elect, Glen Youngkin
Article written by Jett James Pruitt.
Raging inflation, critical race theory, worker shortages, abortion rights, voter suppression––all key issues that brought Virginia voters to the ballot box earlier this week.
On November 2, Republican Glen Youngkin defeated Democratic challenger Terry McAuliffe to become the next Governor of Virginia. In a heated contest with national attention, Youngkin became the first Republican to win a statewide election in Virginia since 2009.
Youngkin’s somewhat surprising victory against McAuliffe jarred Democratic strategists throughout the nation. As many Americans know, Virginia is a blue state where voters frequently elect Democratic candidates over their Republican counterparts.
More recently, President Joe Biden won the state by 10 percentage points against former President Donald Trump in the 2020 Presidential Election; former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in Virginia by five percentage points.
In fact, with the exception of Trump, a Republican nominee hasn’t won the state in a federal presidential election since 2004.
This, coupled with unexpectedly strong Republican support in the New Jersey Gubernatorial Election, made Democrats worried on Wednesday that public support may be fracturing over hot-button issues like the economy and critical race theory.
McAuliffe’s loss in Virginia is considered a referendum on the Biden presidency. As Biden’s nationwide approval ratings drop, it appears that McAuliffe failed to sway independent voters and capitalize on any progressive achievements. In fact, President Biden conceded that Congress should have passed the $1.75 trillion spending package and the $1 trillion infrastructure deal before election day.
“I think we should have passed it before election day,” Biden said from the South Court Auditorium in Washington, DC, on Wednesday. “But I’m not sure that I would have been able to change [the outcome of the election].”
President Biden (L) with Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (R)
Biden further stated that many voters are concerned with the coronavirus pandemic, the worker shortage, and the price of gasoline around the country, thus downplaying his influence on McAuliffe’s loss.
Mirroring Biden’s sentiments, Democrats are divided on what led to McAuliffe’s defeat. Progressives argue that McAuliffe was too centrist, while moderates insist he was too liberal.
Most strategists agree that McAuliffe's stance on parents having limited influence over what's being taught in schools was the true death-nail of his campaign.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) asserted that McAuliffe failed to “energize a progressive base” through his “100% super-moderated campaign.”
Senator Mark Warner [D-VA], on the other hand, said the election loss indicates that Democrats need to govern in a “pragmatic way.”
“What I heard as I was out campaigning for the [Virginia Democratic] ticket was, ‘Hey, you guys got the White House, the Senate, the House, when are you getting more things done?’ I mean, only in Washington could people think that it is a smart strategy to take a once-in-a-generation investment in infrastructure and prevent your President from signing that bill into law,” Warner stated.
Conversely, most analysts agree that Youngkin won because he mobilized suburban voters concerned about Virginia’s educational system, and maintained strong political support among rural voters.
In the eyes of Republicans, McAuliffe’s loss spells doom for the Democratic Party in the 2022 Midterm Elections. For example, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy predicted on Wednesday that Democrats’ skid would produce huge congressional gains for Republicans.
“Today is a wakeup call for Washington Democrats to abandon the partisan, extremist agenda of Washington-based programs that cost trillions of dollars and that nobody even wants,” said McCarthy. “It’ll be more than 70 [Democratic seats] that will be competitive. There’s many that are going to lose their races, based on walking off a cliff—from Nancy Pelosi [Speaker of the House, D-CA] pushing them.”
In light of many Democratic superstars—such as President Biden, former President Barack Obama, and Vice President Kamala Harris— stumping for McAuliffe on the campaign trail before November 2, some analysts agree with McCarthy’s bold assertions.
As of this moment, many swing voters are not buying the Democratic Party's agenda.
To clarify, McAuliffe served as Virginia Governor from 2014 to 2018. However, as the state constitution prohibits an individual from serving two consecutive terms, McAuliffe had to wait four years before seeking reelection.
As a result, Glen Youngkin will be sworn into office on January 15, 2022.
Parents Protesting Critical Race Theory in Virginia
So, what can both parties learn from November 2? Does McAuliffe’s loss indicate that Biden will lose reelection in 2024?
What's next for both camps?
To begin with, Republicans should be cautiously elated. Evidently, flipping a governorship in a traditionally blue state is a major accomplishment. Youngkin’s efforts to create a broad coalition of support clearly paid off, and Republicans proved they can still turn blue states purple.
Tuesday night's win was especially sweet to Republicans after they floundered in the California Governor Recall Election earlier this year (an election in which Gavin Newsom easily won).
Moreover, even though Democrat Governor Phil Murphy ultimately won his reelection bid, Republican nominee Jack Cittarelli defied expectations and almost seized the governorship in New Jersey.
At the same time, Republicans should remain cautious and not become overconfident.
Never-Vote-Red issues like abortion rights and voter suppression still hang over the GOP in every state. As such, McAuliffe still put up a good fight against Youngkin, receiving nearly 1,577,000 votes compared to Youngkin’s 1,660,000 vote tally.
That’s a sizable difference, but not a walk in the park.
More importantly, the Republican resurgence in Virginia and New Jersey could just be part of a well-established theme: incumbent administrations always receive backlashes in the middle of their terms.
President Bill Clinton faced the Republican Revolution of 1994; two years later, he comfortably won reelection.
The Democratic Party lost 6 Senate seats and 63 House seats in the 2010 Midterms Election; two years later, President Obama won reelection.
The GOP lost 41 House seats in the 2018 Midterm Elections; the party reclaimed 14 of those seats in 2020.
Of course, this phenomenon also occurs on the state level. Republican Chris Christie won the New Jersey Governorship in 2009. Not surprisingly, this did not influence the state’s support for Obama in 2012 (in which he defeated Republican nominee Mitt Romney by 18 percentage points in the state).
Virginia also frequently elects a gubernatorial candidate of the opposing party of the incumbent administration. For example, Virginia elected Democrat Tim Kaine in 2005 when Republican President George W. Bush was in office. Conversely, Virginia elected Republican Bob McDonnell in 2009 when President Obama was in his first year in office.
Therefore, it's very likely that Youngkin’s win was just a natural rebuke of the Biden administration.
With this in mind, each party learned a lesson.
For 2022 and 2024, Republicans should sustain its newfound momentum while treading carefully in future political arenas. Specifically, they should reevaluate their messaging surrounding tough topics and establish a broad and diverse coalition of voters to propel their candidates to victory.
As for Democrats, hope is not lost. Democratic candidates such as Michelle Wu, Eric Adams, and Ed Gainey handily won Mayoral Elections in Boston, New York City, and Pittsburgh, respectively. While that doesn’t come much as a surprise, it still indicates the Democratic Party retains solid political support in urban areas—which is always important in national elections.
Moreover, Biden has three more years in office, meaning that the Democrat Party can still deliver a major win for the liberal agenda. With inflation hitting voters directly and foreign policy blunders plaguing the Biden administration, however, Democrats seriously need to prove to voters they can accomplish their objectives and effectively lead the nation.
Either way, it will be interesting to see what the future entails.
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