LOS ANGELES, CA – Republicans do the best after expectations are lowered. Going into this year’s Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections, it was widely expected that Democrats would hang on to those governorships easily. After all, Virginia has been a reliably blue state for over more than a decade, when Terry McAuliffe himself kept the governor’s house blue in 2013, despite a Democrat in the presidency at the time, bucking previous trends of having an opposite party to provide a check to the president.
With Virginia’s House of Delegates also flipping back to Republican and a sweep of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General offices, is Virginia reverting back to its swing state status? The verdict is still out on that one.
Taking into account all the elections, big and small, across the country there was a clear national shift. Biden had won Virginia by a strong 10 points just a year ago, and New Jersey by 16. However, the governor race is still too close to call for the Republican in New Jersey. Win or lose, that is a healthy double digit shift of public opinion in just a year in those two states, almost uniformly.
Reflected in downballot races, the Virginia House of Delegates reverting back to Republican has shocked many Democrat incumbents who lost their seats. But this same phenomenon was seen in New Jersey, where New Jersey State Senate President Steve Sweeney is likely to lose his seat to a truck driver who only spent $153 on his campaign. Some of his other Democratic colleagues are trailing or have lost their re-election bids.
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Seattle looks set to elect its first Republican in more than three decades, Bruce Harrell, leading 65-35. Almost all cities in the country have Democratic mayors, but Bruce ran unabashedly as a pro-police candidate, along with the city attorney, Ann Davidson, who ran on a similar platform pushing more prosecutions of low level crimes in a city dealing with rampant homelessness. Voters pushed back against their rivals who ran on overhauling the criminal justice system.
Apart from geographical results, let’s look at demographic takeaways. Much has been said about the MAGA base and Trump affecting elections, certainly what was attributed to the California recall’s 24 point loss in California. However, the California recall was still a five point shift to the right from last year’s presidential election.
But more importantly, the Youngkin campaign in Virginia actually collaborated with Trump to energize the MAGA vote, but simultaneously did not energize the North Virginia Democrats. Youngkin ultimately ran on a winning Trump and Republican platform, but brought the issues to the forefront. Localizing is key, and the Republicans are now better at communicating kitchen table issues than Democrats.
The African American community also did not stay home in Virginia. They came out in force, driven by on the ground issues like school choice and even pushing back on the Democrats regarding racism. The previous Democratic governor will probably be best known for his racist past. Even Shaun King in 2016 noticed this trend way back and I continue to see it more and more each day: Democrats continue to peddle racism, while pretending to not be the racists. Most importantly, it has just been projected for a victory by Winsome Sears, who is now the first female and black Lieutenant Governor. Her victory statement said, “black voters are tired of being manipulated”, echoing a growing sentiment of rebellion by black Democrats against their own party. As a former Marine, her list of qualifications continue to show the importance of merit in the Republican Party.
Youngkin also won a majority of Latinos in Virginia, following Trump’s trend and roadmaps of improving in minority demographics, despite a loss last November. I would wager that if the Republican Party continued to follow the Bush model and the elitist direction, that inroads Trump and Youngkin made would not have materialized. In fact, the gay conservative Bill Kristol’s endorsement of McAuliffe likely added to the elitist perception around McAuliffe and the Democrats.
A Texas state House seat in San Antonio flipped blue to red. Biden carried this 75 percent Hispanic district by 14 points, continuing in gains made in West Texas and the southern border, which was traditionally Democrat for over a century.
The bottom line is the GOP can appeal simultaneously to upscale suburban voters and working class. It is not one or the other. And to the Democrats’ credit, the bar is now very low. Both coalitions are motivated by justifiable economic anxieties and general unease over Democratic excesses. In Virginia 2020, white women were won by Biden, 50-49. This year, Youngkin won the same demographic 57-43, a 15-point swing towards the Republicans.
The trick is to stop falling into tribes, but don’t completely dismiss the heterogeneity of our current society. Youngkin and many of our Republican victors this year showed they could strike that perfect balance. California Republicans can learn some lessons from this.