Elections have consequences. At the onset of the Biden Administration, Democrats for the first time since 2009 have unified control of the Presidency, the House, and (thanks to Vice President Harris’ tie breaking vote) the Senate. Yet while their signature domestic legislation remains mired in factional infighting, Democrats had a terrible night last night – almost on the scope of 2009 (or 2017 for Republicans). What happened?
Virginia: In a state Joe Biden carried 54-44%, and which has had nearly a decade of Democratic control in the Governor’s Mansion, Democrats had a terrible night. They lost all three statewide offices by nearly identical 1–2-point margins. They also (as of press time) lost 7 seats in the state House, which cost Democrats control of that chamber (no state Senate seats were up this year). The way Republicans won was instructive and offers a game plan for them for next year’s midterms: (1) avoid negative engagement against former President Trump and get a massive “base turnout”, (2) whittle down Democratic margins in the suburbs, and (3) flip enough Independents who voted for Joe Biden through issue positions and quality candidates. As a snapshot of the latter strategy, swingy Virginia Beach voted 5 points for Joe Biden, while last night, it supported all three GOP statewide candidates by identical 8-point margins. Quite simply, swing voters offer the keys to the electoral kingdom, and neither party can afford to take them for granted.
(11/22 UPDATE) New Jersey: Biden carried this state 57-41%, so Democrats have more votes to spare. Plus, they control the governorship and both houses of the legislature. Nevertheless, the Governor’s race is extremely close, where the incumbent Democrat (who won by 14 points in 2017) only was re-elected 51-48%. More damaging to the Democrats was that they are currently poised to lose 8 seats in the state House and 1-3 in the state Senate, thus narrowing their margin of control in that chamber – something that hasn’t happened in decades.
Other races (NY/OH/PA): Republicans also have other successes they can point to last night. The New York City suburbs have leaned Democratic for a generation (Nassau went 54-44% for Biden, while Trump only carried Suffolk by 300 votes), yet Republicans won several crucial countywide offices in both of those suburban counties. Meanwhile, in a special Congressional election in the suburbs of Columbus (Ohio), a Republican won 58-42% in a district Trump won 56-42%. Finally, Republicans won a statewide Supreme Court race in Pennsylvania 52-48% in a state that voted 50-49% for Joe Biden.
Looking ahead to 2022, it’s clear that the multi state victories Republicans had should make Democrats in swingy districts VERY nervous. Especially if it’s in a district Joe Biden carried with 55% of the vote or less (in other words, the “breakeven point” seems to be somewhere between Biden’s 54% in Virginia and 57% in New Jersey). Currently, there are 49 House and 4 Senate Democrats holding seats with that political “temperature” – in other words, the balance of power in both houses of Congress.
Conclusion: Between President Biden’s declining poll numbers (his approval ratings have fallen from 53-36% at the beginning of his administration to 43-51% now) and last night’s election results, Republicans have the wind at their backs again for the first time since 2014. Meaning that the Democrats need to be prepared for next year’s midterms, which already (due to their narrow control of both Houses of Congress) was going to be a challenge.