Joe Biden suffered a bitter political blow early Wednesday when Democrats went down in a shocked defeat in the election for governor of Virginia.
The Democratic nominee, Terry McAuliffe, had campaigned alongside Biden and Barack Obama, but that was not enough to stop Republican Glenn Youngkin from getting started.
The AP called the race for Youngkin in the early hours of Wednesday morning. The Republican took an early lead after closed-door polls, which he maintained throughout the evening, while McAuliffe limped into key counties that Biden swept into 2020.
Youngkin clenched his fists and clapped his hands, speaking to jubilant supporters in Chantilly just after noon. “Okay, Virginia, we won this thing!” he exclaimed. “How fun!”
The 54-year-old political neophyte described it as “a crucial moment” for millions of Virginia people who “share dreams and hopes”. Youngkin promised: “Together we will change the course of this kingdom and friends, we will start that transformation on day one. There is no time to waste.”
In a nod to what became his crucial campaign question, the Republican said, “We want to restore expertise in our schools … We want to introduce choices into our public school system … Friends, we want to embrace our parents, not ignore them. We will continue to work on a curriculum that includes listening to parental input. “
As on the campaign track, Youngkin did not pronounce the name “Trump”.
The Battle of Virginia has been seen as a litmus test of Biden’s presidency a year after winning the White House, coinciding with his congressional agenda stalling and his approval rating falling to 42%.
“The fight continues,” McAuliffe said in a speech Tuesday night, thanking his campaign staff for a hard-fought race but stopping without an admission.
“We need to make sure we protect women’s right to choose here in the Commonwealth of Virginia. We need to make sure everyone gets quality, affordable health care here in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Everyone has the right to an education world-class here in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and we will continue that fight tonight, and every day going forward. “
McAulife’s extensive efforts to portray Youngkin as an acolyte of Donald Trump proved less effective than the Republican’s laser-like focus on whipping parents’ fears and anger over culture war issues in Virginia schools.
Youngkin made false claims that critical race theory – an analytical framework through which academics examine the ways in which racial differences are reproduced by law – is widespread in the state education system (in fact, it is not taught).
His campaign focused on a perceived fork from McAuliffe at one of their debates: “I do not think parents should tell schools what to teach.”
Importantly, Youngkin also succeeded in walking on a politically tight leash, accepting Trump’s support but never mentioning him in blunt speeches or inviting him to campaign with him in person. He cultivated sufficient ambiguity to appeal to moderate Republicans without alienating the Trump base.
The story was on Youngkin’s side, as the party losing the White House tends to be energetic and usually wins Virginia’s gubernatorial run a year later. But McAuliffe himself had rejected that rule when he became governor in 2014 (he was limited to one term).
No Republican, however, had won nationwide office since 2009, and Biden beat Trump in Virginia by 10 percentage points, meaning a Democratic loss here would resonate across the nation.
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, a similar story was unfolding as Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy struggled to win re-election against his Republican challenger, Jack Ciattarelli. That race was too close to call, with Ciattarelli narrowly ahead. If Murphy holds office, he would be the first Democrat re-elected as state governor in 44 years, while a defeat would bode poorly for the National Democrats.
At McAulife’s election night event at a hotel in Tysons, Virginia, giant TVs showing cable news coverage were turned off long before a result was final. Astonished fans pulled out into the cool night.
Manisha Singh, 48, an analyst, said: “It’s extremely disappointing. I can not imagine all the lies that were spread to influence voters. I knocked and people said take porn out of public schools, which is they were just repeating what they had seen on Fox News. “
Singh added: “This can be a huge wake-up call for the Democrats. We always play nice when the other party is spreading lies. We need to be more aggressive.”
Quarrels quickly arose among National Democrats over what had gone wrong. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee said in a statement: “Unfortunately, Terry McAuliffe can blame his loss on a few corporate-oriented obstructionist Democrats who blocked bold action in Congress, plus his own reliance on backward-looking Trump messages.
It added: “Democrats will not win simply by branding one opponent after another as a Trump clone and then hoping for a knife-thin victory. When Democrats fail to run on big ideas or fulfill bold campaign promises, we push our base down while allowing Republicans to use cultural wars to hide their real agenda. “
McAuliffe, a career politician and establishment Democrat, is likely to point to Biden’s declining popularity and the Washington gridlock as factors in his defeat. Youngkin, a former director of the private equity firm Carlyle Group, sold himself as a political outsider challenging the liberal elite.
His strategy – a delicate balancing act of inciting cultural wars in education and blinking at Trump without fully embracing him – is seen as a potential plan for Republican candidates in next year’s congressional election.
Trump said in a statement: “All McAuliffe did was talk about Trump, Trump, Trump and he lost! What does that tell you, Fake News? I’m guessing people who stand as Democrats will not do it too much “I did not even have to go to the rally for Youngkin, because McAuliffe did it for me.”
Dan Conston, president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a superpolitical action committee dedicated to electing Republicans to the House of Representatives, said: “Tonight’s results drew the attention of all Democrats in Congress.
“Virginia was once zero for suburban decline, but has now become the epicenter of a Republican comeback in 2022. If Republicans can win even in a state so blue that Joe Biden won by 10 points, then far more Democrats are in danger next year than they want to admit. ”
Fighting in Virginia and New Jersey came as voters across the United States went to the polls Tuesday, an off-election day, to cast their ballots for local governors, mayors and government officials.
In New York, former police officer Eric Adams easily won his race to become the next mayor of New York City. In Boston, Michelle Wu wrote history when she defeated Annissa Essaibi-George to become the first colored woman and Asian American elected mayor of the city. History was also made in Durham, North Carolina, where Elaine O’Neal became the city’s first black female mayor after campaigning for neighborhood safety, housing and financial relief in the wake of the pandemic, while Abdullah Hammoud won the mayoral race in Dearborn, Michigan. making him the city’s first Arab American leader.
In Minneapolis, voters rejected an initiative that would have replaced the police department with a new department of public safety, nearly a year and a half after police killings of George Floyd inspired nationwide protests against police brutality.
Maanvi Singh and the Associated Press contributed reporting