Republican Glenn Youngkin won a surprising victory in Virginia on Tuesday, taking the governor’s mansion from Democrats in a state that President BidenJoe Biden Biden Administration Targets Methane Emissions McConnell Criticizes Possible Payments to Separated Migrant Families Poll: 50 percent of Republicans don’t think their vote is accurately counted MORE won by ten points just a year ago.
Youngkin, a businessman and first-time candidate for office, defeated Terry McAuliffe, a former governor and close ally of the Clinton family who has been a fixture of Democratic politics for decades. It was the first Republican state victory in the Commonwealth since 2009.
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Democratic incumbent Governor Phil Murphy was caught up in an unexpected dogfight with Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli that lasted into the wee hours of the night.
At 1 a.m. EST, Murphy and Ciattarelli were very close, with about 80 percent of the precincts reporting.
But beyond the results, what are the main conclusions?
A strong reprimand for Biden
President Biden emphatically predicted a McAuliffe victory at a Tuesday press conference from Scotland, before going on to say that a more adverse outcome should not be construed as a rejection of his agenda.
The prediction was wrong and the argument is implausible.
Biden’s easy victory over Trump in Virginia 12 months ago is now a distant memory. The president’s poll ratings in ELA are weak: Several recent polls have indicated that his approval number among Virginians is somewhere under 40.
Even McAuliffe acknowledged, in a mistake he later tried to clean up, that Biden was “unpopular” in the state.
The exact causes of this unpopularity are open to debate. But in a political climate where so many state races are won and lost on national affairs, discontent with Biden and his administration was a millstone that McAuliffe did not have the political talent to lift.
The problem for Biden is that Virginia is not that unusual. His national approval rating has sunk to roughly the same level.
Biden had already been enduring a difficult stretch of his presidency since America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, and now he faces another bad story, and a new round of Democratic backbiting has already begun.
Democrats have a lot of work to do
Tuesday was a gloomy day for Democrats, and not just in Virginia.
The closeness of the New Jersey race was a real shock. And in a disappointment to progressives, a ballot measure to replace the Minneapolis police department with a new public safety agency was defeated in the city where George Floyd was assassinated in May 2020.
There will be, at the very least, new tensions between centrist and progressive Democrats.
Already, centrists are arguing that the results demonstrate the need to chart a more cautious course or face an electoral disaster.
But the left is in no mood to trim sails. A collective statement from various progressive groups, including the Justice Democrats and the Sunrise Movement, released after midnight, called McAuliffe’s campaign one that was “designed to fail” and “had no rebuttal to the Republican bullshit of racial harassment “.
One thing is for sure: Republicans are on their way today to regain control of Congress in next year’s midterm elections.
A new template for Republican victories
Youngkin handled the ex’s big problem President TrumpDonald TrumpMcAuliffe, Youngkin hold final campaign rallies ahead of tight Virginia gubernatorial race Poll: 50 percent of Republicans don’t think their vote is accurately counted overnight Defense and National Security: The Sub-Deal Showdown intensifies MORE with surprising dexterity, especially for a first-time candidate.
He accepted Trump’s endorsement and was careful not to alienate the former president’s supporters.
But he also kept Trump at arm’s length, especially in the final stages of the general election campaign. Trump never campaigned in person with Youngkin, and the Republican gubernatorial candidate also struck out when a rally organized by Trump allies allegedly used a flag from the rally that immediately preceded the January 6 uprising.
Youngkin’s campaign commercials portrayed him as an affable family man who was far removed from Trump’s belligerence, even if he favored some of the same policies.
Youngkin is the first Republican candidate to have real success with what could be called a post-Trump strategy.
That is something that will give hope to those party members who want to move from the former president without condemning themselves to the marginalization suffered by Trump’s fiercest internal enemies.
Culture wars keep heating up
Education was one of the dominant themes of the final stages of Virginia’s career.
But in reality that label was a catch-all term for several even more emotional topics that gained traction among both moderates and social conservatives.
Resistance to school vaccination mandates, a backlash against progressive demands about how American history is taught, and an increasingly politicized atmosphere around school boards played a role.
Democrats argue that some of those attacks were simply unfair, or worse. McAuliffe accused Youngkin of using a “racist dog whistle” in a controversy over the teaching of Toni Morrison’s novel “Beloved.”
The problem for Democrats is that the general electorate may be far less progressive on all of these issues than Twitter liberals would like to think.
Former Obama strategist David axelrodDavid AxelrodBiden stiffening press interviews The memo: Democrats vent their frustration with Biden on Afghanistan Psaki rejects Axelrod’s criticism of Biden on Afghanistan MORE claimed on CNN that Youngkin had been “very good at creating straw men” on topics like critical race theory, which is not officially taught in any Virginia public school. But Axelrod also noted that the attacks had been effective.
Trump claims credit
The fact that Youngkin stayed away from Trump did not discourage the former president from issuing two separate statements as the Republican nominee’s lead grew Tuesday night.
“I would like to thank my BASE for taking effect and voting for Glenn Youngkin. Without you, I would not have been close to winning, “Trump said in the second statement. “The MAGA movement is bigger and stronger than ever.”
There are real questions as to whether that is true.
Trump’s remarks sounded gloomy. But they also betrayed concerns that the wider Republican Party might have found a way to win without him.