Tight races for governor unfolded Tuesday night in Virginia and New Jersey, with Democratic candidates narrowly trailing their Republican rivals in states President Joe Biden easily captured a year ago.
Around midnight, the elections were still too early to call. As the vote count progressed, the two races seemed to be close.
In Virginia, Democrat Terry McAuliffe addressed supporters in suburban Washington, promising to “count all those votes.” was pleased with the way things seemed to be going.
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy was vying for re-election against former Republican State Assembly member Jack Ciattarelli in a race that was also too early to call. If successful, Murphy would be the state’s first Democrat re-elected governor in 44 years.
The evening’s results, however, can ultimately be interpreted as an early judgment from Biden, who captured Virginia last year with a comfortable 10-point margin and easily won New Jersey. The proximity to the governor’s races indicated how much his party’s political fortunes have changed in a short period of time.
The White House has been rocked in recent months by the chaotic withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, an at times slow economic recovery amid the pandemic, and a risky legislative agenda on Capitol Hill.
A loss in Virginia, which has tended towards Democrats for more than a decade, would particularly heighten the sense of alarm within the party as next year’s midterm elections approach, when congressional control is at stake. But Biden expressed his optimism for the evening while acknowledging that “the dead year is always unpredictable.”
“I think we’re going to win in Virginia,” Biden said at a press conference in Scotland, where he was attending an international climate summit. “I don’t believe – and I haven’t seen any evidence that – that I am doing well or badly, whether my program is adopted or not, it will have a real impact on winning or losing. . “
Elsewhere, Democrat Eric Adams won the election for mayor of New York, and an election issue promoted by leading national progressives was defeated in Minneapolis. He had sought to reshape the police in the city, where the murder of George Floyd last year sparked large protests for racial justice across the country.
But no other breed has received the Virginia governor’s level of campaign attention. This is in part because such contests in many states have at times shown voter frustration with a newly-ruling party, foreshadowing significant turnover in Congress the following year.
In 2009, in President Barack Obama’s first year in office, Republican Bob McDonnell’s victory in Virginia provided for a disastrous midterm cycle for Democrats, who lost more than 60 House seats the following year.
The top of the Virginia Republican ticket featured a white man as Youngkin, a black woman Winsome Sears, a candidate for lieutenant governor and claiming to be the first woman of color to hold the office, and a Hispanic man running for attorney general, Jason Miyarès.
AP VoteCast, a survey of state voters, showed that about half of Virginians had a favorable opinion of Youngkin, compared with 55% saying they had an unfavorable opinion of Trump, suggesting that the Republican candidate for governor had managed to distance himself from the former president. Youngkin was backed by Trump but did not personally appear with him, although the party is still dominated by the former president.
McAuliffe, on the other hand, campaigned with his party’s biggest national stars, including Biden, whose last visit to Virginia was a week before election day. VoteCast found Biden underwater, with 48% of Virginia voters approving his job performance versus 52% disapproving – especially striking in a state he had won so easily.
VoteCast also found that Youngkin was making small gains in the suburbs, remaining competitive with McAuliffe after about 6 in 10 voters in the same regions backed Biden against Trump last year.
In Norfolk, along the state’s Atlantic coast, Cassandra Ogren, 29, said she voted for McAuliffe in part because of her support for abortion rights and concerns about the restrictions recently enacted in Texas, where a new law primarily prohibits the procedure. But she was also motivated by Youngkin’s ties to Trump.
“Anyone backed by President Trump is not someone I want to represent myself,” Ogren said.
VoteCast found that voters in Virginia saw the economy as the main issue in the race, followed by the coronavirus pandemic and schools. The importance that many voters placed on schools seemed like good news for Youngkin. His commitment to ensuring that parents have more say in what their children learn was a centerpiece of his campaign – perhaps foreshadowing similar arguments GOP candidates will use across the country next year. .
Youngkin decried “Critical Race Theory,” an academic framework that focuses on the idea that racism is systemic in nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain white dominance. In recent months, it has become a catch-all political buzzword for teaching in schools about race and American history.
The question gained more weight after McAuliffe said in a debate that “I don’t think parents should tell schools what to teach.”
Bennett White, 24, a voter for Youngkin in Norfolk, said he didn’t want “our next generation of leaders to look at their peers through the prism of race.”
“I just want to make sure my mom is safe in the classroom,” said White, whose mom is a teacher, “and that her ideals and everyone’s ideals are protected, and we don’t turn into them. brainwashing academies. ”