Is It Time for Democrats to Panic?


Democrat Terry McAuliffe might need slipped up in his second and closing debate with Glenn Youngkin, however the Republican has made his personal errors in his marketing campaign for governor of Virginia.
Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Photos

The one political media narrative extra sturdy than “Democrats in disarray,” it appears, is “Democrats in full panic.” And as President Joe Biden’s job-approval rating lingers underwater and the battle to enact his agenda in Congress drags on, there’s numerous justified pessimism about his occasion’s potential to hold on to a governing trifecta within the 2022 midterms.

However what could flip worry and fear into panic is a defeat within the November 2 Virginia gubernatorial contest. So the large query is: Might that occur, and if that’s the case, what does it imply for the longer term? Listed here are some (principally reassuring) factors for Democrats to think about.

The case for Terry McAuliffe’s doubtless victory is straightforward: Democrats haven’t misplaced a statewide race in Virginia since 2009. Within the final gubernatorial contest, in 2017, Democrat Ralph Northam beat Republican Ed Gillespie by a margin of 8.9 %. Biden defeated Donald Trump within the commonwealth by 10.1 %. Virginia is blue and getting bluer, it appears.

However then there’s Virginia’s well-known reluctance to elect governors from the occasion that controls the White Home. It didn’t occur for a tremendous 40 years from 1973 till 2013. Sure, McAuliffe was the one who broke the streak— however he received by a spare 2.6 % in opposition to a flawed and underfunded conservative ideologue, Ken Cuccinelli. Within the earlier governor’s race, in 2009, Republican Bob McDonnell trounced Democrat Creigh Deeds by 17 proportion factors despite the fact that Barack Obama had ended the GOP’s lengthy presidential successful streak in Virginia the yr earlier than. So it’s true that Previous Dominion’s blue hue may be overstated, significantly when Democrats management the White Home; the state’s proximity to Washington and its highly effective media retailers clearly contributes to a daily nationalization of elections there.

One more reason Democrats worry a Virginia defeat this yr is Republicans seem to have an enthusiasm benefit within the state, simply as they do in a lot of the nation. However McAuliffe has often (if narrowly) led Republican Glenn Youngkin in polls that deploy likely-voter screens.

As for the marketing campaign itself, each candidates seem to have made a big unforced error. Within the second and closing candidate debate on September 28, McAuliffe defended a bill he vetoed as governor that might have let children “choose out” of studying assignments that included sexually express supplies dad and mom discovered offensive. Taken out of context, his remark “Yeah, I ended the invoice that I don’t assume dad and mom must be telling faculties what they need to educate” has been wealthy fodder for Youngkin’s declare that McAuliffe is loyal to Schooling Division bureaucrats and academics unions moderately than dad and mom.

Extra lately, Youngkin was caught flat-footed by a “Take Again Virginia” rally headlined by Steve Bannon that included not solely testaments on behalf of Youngkin (together with one by telephone from Trump) however a Pledge of Allegiance to a flag that had been brandished on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. This incident bolstered McAuliffe’s effort to tie his opponent to Trump and Republican extremism.

The race might go both means, however McAuliffe stays the favourite, albeit not with any nice confidence.

Virginia’s historical past of punishing the occasion of the president in gubernatorial contests hasn’t actually made the state a bellwether for subsequent midterm elections, which often reduce in opposition to the occasion within the White Home there and in all places else. On the uncommon events when the president’s occasion did make midterm beneficial properties, Virginia wasn’t prophetic in any respect. In 1997, Republican Jim Gilmore received the governorship over Don Beyer by a landslide the yr earlier than Democrats made beneficial properties within the Home. And in 2001, Democrat Mark Warner solidly defeated Republican Mark Earley simply earlier than Republicans made Home and Senate beneficial properties within the 2002 midterms.

The newest “prophetic” Virginia consequence was in all probability the McDonnell landslide in 2009, which occurred a yr earlier than the nationwide Republican landslide that flipped management of the Home (and netted the GOP three seats in Virginia). However even when Youngkin wins, he isn’t going to win by the 59-41 margin by which McDonnell received, so it wouldn’t characterize grounds for Democratic panic.

These pointing to a 2022 fiasco for Democrats typically evaluate the upcoming election to the 2010 catastrophe that occurred throughout Obama’s first time period. Whereas the chances are good Democrats will lose management of the Home in 2022 (except Biden’s job-approval score turns round and begins to resemble the 60-plus % numbers loved by Invoice Clinton in 1998 and George W. Bush in 2002), Democrats simply don’t have the form of “publicity” they suffered from in 2010 and different midterms with catastrophic outcomes, as Ronald Brownstein points out:

The largest midterm losses have sometimes come after elections (like these in 1912, 1964, and 2008) through which the bulk occasion secured vital beneficial properties — forcing it to defend seats deep within the different occasion’s territory. Home Democrats already surrendered in 2020 lots of the most Republican-leaning seats they’d captured two years earlier than. 

Thanks paradoxically to their underwhelming performance in 2020 Home elections, Democrats don’t management sufficient marginal turf to generate something like 2010’s 63-seat loss. Only seven Democrats maintain Home seats in districts carried by Trump in 2020; going into 2010, 49 Home Democrats have been in districts received by John McCain regardless of Obama’s large nationwide win. You may actually make argument that partisan polarization has decreased the probability of huge swings in just about all nationwide elections. After 2010, it took Democrats 4 election cycles to regain management of the Home. In the event that they lose the Home in 2022, the highway again may very well be shorter.

Among the “Democrats in full panic” syndrome in all probability stems from sure partisan traits: All else being equal, Democrats are likely to see glasses as half full whereas Republicans perpetually spin future elections as already received (and within the period of Big Liar Trump, previous losses as received too). However historical past and present tendencies counsel that whereas some painful Home losses are doubtless in retailer for the Donkey Social gathering subsequent yr, it might properly hold on to the Senate and win some key gubernatorial races as properly. And there’s actually no reason at all to assume Biden can’t be reelected in 2024 if he chooses to run for a second time period.

For now, Democrats ought to fret much less about Virginia and focus extra on securing accomplishments in Congress that may function a legacy it doesn’t matter what occurs in 2022. | Is It Time for Democrats to Panic?


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