The Democrats lost Virginia, which they controlled for almost 10 years. In contrast, the Republican camp appeared united, suggesting it could regain a congressional majority in the midterm elections next year.
The return to earth was brutal for Joe Biden and the Democrats. The American president’s honeymoon period came to a close in the middle of the summer with the chaotic retreat from Afghanistan. And already, some anticipate paralysis in the three remaining years of his term. Indeed, the Democrats suffered an important setback last Tuesday in the first significant election held during Biden’s presidency, suggesting a possible shift in the congressional majority next year.
In the most awaited ballot results to date, the Democrats lost the governorship of Virginia, a state they have led for close to four decades over 30 years. The electoral map of results in Virginia was not a surprise. The heavily populated areas voted by a very large margin for candidate Terry McAuliffe, a moderate who had trouble mobilizing his own camp. His opponent, the Republican Party’s Glenn Youngkin, gained the most votes in rural areas and managed to win ground in the suburbs and within the middle class. Ultimately, he prevailed with 50.7% of the vote.
Donald Trump was pleased with the victory of Youngkin, 54, the former head of The Carlyle Group investment fund, and someone with no political experience. “The MAGA movement is bigger and stronger than ever before,” Trump proclaimed. The winning candidate, however, distanced himself from the former president, who was not asked to campaign with him. Youngkin succeeded in drawing both the Trump faithful and those Republicans who were reluctant to follow the Trump agenda.
This is a setback for Biden. A year ago, he carried Virginia by 10 points. And he was personally involved in McAuliffe’s campaign, coming to support him a few days before the election. That was not enough to mobilize minorities among others who had supported Biden by a wide margin last year.
The results were just as disturbing elsewhere for Democrats. In New Jersey, the two candidates for governor were still running neck-and-neck on Wednesday, threatening Democratic progress there and on the East coast, areas that Democrats retook four years ago. Republicans, however, had few illusions, and invested in a little-known candidate. There were a few surprises, however, in several municipal elections, such as Boston, where Michelle Wu, the 36-year-old daughter of Taiwanese immigrants became the first woman mayor of the city and the first from a minority. New York, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Minneapolis also remained Democrat.
The Death of Reform?
Minneapolis awaited another election result, as voters chose not to scrap the police department, a department blamed for the death of George Floyd last year and for several subsequent acts of violence. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party sought to replace the police department with an agency that would prioritize crime prevention.
There is already concern within the Democratic ranks over next year’s midterm congressional elections. The Democrats’ majority is hanging on by a thread in the Senate, where today the two camps are tied, separated only by the vote of the president of the Senate, Vice-President Kamala Harris. In the event of a “red wave,” the threat could take shape even in the House of Representatives. That would be enough to nip all promised reform in the bud. Thus, the president is already struggling to impose his agenda on a Congress that is his. His infrastructure investment plan does not have the support of the moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, a situation which is currently blocking the White House’s major projects. What’s more, once this Tuesday’s final results are in, the majority will have to get down to negotiating the bill, something that is increasingly looking like a turning point for Biden.