(The Center Square) – Republicans won convincing victories in many parts of the country on election day, from a clear gubernatorial win in Virginia to a nail-biter in reliably Democratic New Jersey.
A “defund the police” initiative was roundly defeated in Minneapolis, and Virginia Republicans also won the lieutenant governor’s race, lead in the attorney general election, and appear to have gained a majority in the state’s House of Delegates.
Tuesday’s results have raised concerns among some Democrats that President Joe Biden’s agenda has hurt down-ballot Democrats, and that it could foretell a disastrous midterm for the party next year. Progressives, though, have argued the electoral losses came because Democrats have not been aggressive enough.
Republicans pointed to the wins as proof of a referendum against Biden’s economy and his proposed several trillion dollars in federal spending.
“Build Back Better is dead,” said U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., sharing a sentiment echoed by many Republicans on election night.
Whether that is true remains to be seen, but the tough losses for Democrats Tuesday could cause those up for re-election to pause on the proposal, especially when a normally safe blue state like New Jersey had such a tight governor’s race. The New Jersey race is currently too close to call, but the Democratic candidate, incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy, whose far outspent his challenger, was expected to easily win.
“The message from last night’s GOP sweep in VA and the shocker of [the NJ race] is crystal clear: voters don’t want what the Democrats are selling,” said U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. “They don’t want parents persecuted, they don’t want critical race theory, they don’t want woke liberalism.”
The Democratic losses come at a time when Biden’s approval ratings have dipped to their lowest since he took office.
A Harvard CAPS/Harris released this week reported a 43% approval rating for the job Biden is doing while 51% disapprove, similar to what other polls have found in the past two weeks.
Defunding the police was a particularly localized issue in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered by police last year. In Virginia, education took center stage because of concerns over critical race theory and allegations that Loudoun school officials ignored a sexual assault case, one of many issues that have led to raucous school board meetings in the state.
An announcement from Attorney General Merrick Garland that the FBI would be investigating some of these parents only egged on the issue, helping Republicans carry the pro-parent mantle on education.
While those federal and local education concerns turned voters out to the polls, the struggling economy also played a part. The latest economic data show the fastest rising inflation in 30 years, with price hikes for used cars, gasoline and a range of other goods and services.
Joblessness has remained much higher than the pre-pandemic levels as well, and supply chain shortages have threatened the holiday season.
This will likely ramp up criticism of Biden’s reconciliation plan, since federal debt spending contributes to inflation. Before Tuesday’s losses, critics had already cited inflation as a reason to oppose Biden’s plan, especially U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., who has consistently pointed to inflation as a main concern in the spending bill.
“Over the past year, Congress has injected more than $5 trillion of stimulus into the American economy – more than any time since World War II – to respond to the pandemic,” Manchin said in his initial opposition to Biden’s plan. “The challenge we now face is different: millions of jobs remain unfilled across the country and rising inflation rates are now an unavoidable tax on the wages and income of every American. These are not indications of an economy that requires trillions in additional spending.”
An NBC News poll released this week found the surveyed voters favored Republicans’ handling of the economy by 18 points and their handling of inflation by 24 points.
Now that economic woes hurt Democrats at the polls, the inflation critique has only been bolstered and left political analysts wondering if 2021 could be a preview of 2022. One quote that went viral Wednesday contains a clip of a recent speech Vice President Kamala Harris gave in support of Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Terry McAuliffe.
“You see, what happens in Virginia will in large part determine what happens in 2022, 2024 and on,” she said.