“Extremism can come in many forms,” President Biden said at a speech recently. “It can come in the rage of a mob driven to assault the Capitol. It can come in a smile and a fleece vest.” “Extremist” or not, turns out coming in a smile and a fleece vest works; the man he was alluding to, Glenn Youngkin, will be Virginia’s next Governor, last night delivering Republicans their first win in any statewide election there since 2009, a full twelve years ago.
Not only that, Youngkin had coattails that stretched downballot; Winsome Sears has won the Lieutenant Governorship for the Republicans, becoming the first black woman to hold statewide office in Virginia, and Jason Miyares is leading in the race for Attorney General; if he wins he’ll be the first Latino to hold the post. In addition the Republicans appear to have retaken the House of Delegates, which they lost in 2019. Were it not for the state’s Senate happening to not even be on the ballot this year the Republicans would probably have won a trifecta in state government.
Virginia: Blue, but not as Blue as it’s cracked up to be
Not bad for a state Biden won by 10 points (!) just a year ago and that everyone seemed to think was gone and forgotten for the GOP. True, the Republicans hadn’t won a single statewide race since Bob McDonnell’s 17-point landslide in 2009, but in 2013 the Republicans only lost the Governorship by 3 points, and in 2014 the Republicans lost a federal Senate race by less than 1 point.
The state has trended Democrat in recent decades, but even in 2020, which set a new Democratic high water mark, Virginia only voted 6 points to the left of the nation. Democrats clearly have the advantage there, but it’s not as if it’s a safe blue state; fundamentally Republicans would still be expected to win easily if they had a good candidate running in a national environment that was even moderately favorable to them, as they did in 2009, and as they have done in 2021.
And with Biden’s approval ratings severely underwater the national environment is once again quite favorable for Republicans. New Jersey’s results are not yet all in, but with the vast majority of precincts heard from incumbent Democratic Governor Phil Murphy is still deadlocked with Republican challenger Jack Ciatterelli; Murphy will probably limp across the finish line in the end, but in a state that went for Biden by 16 points and that Murphy was expected to win easily just a few months ago it’s still an embarrassing result, one that demonstrates that the rightward swing this year is not confined to Virginia.
Republicans, fear not Voter Rights!
Virginia in particular demonstrates that Republicans, contrary to their deathly fear of people exercising their right to vote, have nothing to fear from making it easier to vote or from high voter turnout in general. Turnout was extremely high compared to 2009, 2013, and 2014 (the other recent elections Republicans did well in) and under outgoing Governor Northam the Democrats implemented a whole slew of measures expanding access to the polls, yet this year it seems to have benefited Republicans. A lot of people came out to vote for them! Amazing what you can do when you actually try to get people to vote for you, isn’t it?
Not only the Suburbs fell to the fleece Vest!
Many stories in the mass media are being written about how Youngkin swung the suburbs, “the suburbs” this, “the suburbs” that, but the truth is Youngkin improved on Trump’s performance across the state with striking uniformity. His victory didn’t come from any one area in particular.
Sure, Youngkin closed the Democrats’ margin of victory in e.g. affluent suburban Loudoun County from 25 points to 10 points, but he also expanded the Republican margin of victory in e.g. rural Appalachian Carroll County from 63 points to 67 points. This after many pundits and psephologists were convinced Republicans had maxed out their margins among rural whites, that only Trump could appeal to them enough to get the margins Republicans earned in 2016 and 2020.
Well, we can put that idea to bed; the stupendous Republican margins in rural white America are here to stay it seems. Particularly striking is how Youngkin did this while distancing himself from Trump and “MAGA”; he didn’t repudiate Trump, but he didn’t tie himself to him either, instead practicing a strategy of moving on from Trump. When Trump was President that didn’t work, so Republican candidates were tied down by his personal baggage and unpopularity, but now that he’s gone from the White House he’s yesterday’s news and voters aren’t as interested in whether a candidate is a “Trumpist” or not. As Terry McAuliffe discovered last night just saying your opponent is an acolyte of Trump isn’t enough to win anymore.
We can also put to rest the idea that Republicans can’t improve among white voters without a college degree beyond what Trump achieved in 2016 and 2020. Trump won this group in Virginia by 25 points last year, but this year Youngkin won them by 52 points!
Latinos? Going Red?
One exit poll I saw showed that Youngkin won Hispanic voters in the state by 5 points, a group that went to Biden by like 30 points just last year. The Republican trend among Hispanics is real, as we saw in the Rio Grande Valley in 2020 and in the California recall election last September; there’s been a whole spate of elections recently where Hispanics have trended to the right, often very rapidly.
The Latino trend has gone hand-in-hand with education polarization (relatively few Latinos have college degrees), and it’s looking more and more like the Latino working class is converging with the voting habits of the white working class. If Republicans can seize this opportunity the demographic advantage from the rising tide of color (which is primarily coming from Hispanic population growth) Democrats enjoy will be neutralized, and even be flipped into a tailwind for the GOP!
Another lesson from Youngkin’s victory is that if you run a candidate without much personal baggage, who competently runs a populist campaign, and who emphasizes issues that are actually popular with broad majorities of the electorate you will do well. It’s a simple recipe that it often forgotten, but it consistently works.
Signs for the 2022 Midterm Elections?
Looking forward to 2022, what tea leaves does 2021 offer us? In short, if the national environment doesn’t change in their favor in the next year 2022 is going to be a bloodbath for the Democrats, 2010 and 2014 all over again.
Only worse this time, because Republicans could have 54 Senate seats after 2022, followed directly after by a 2024 Senate map that favors them. If they just pick up the states Trump won both times they’ll gain an additional 3 seats in 2024; the pickups could expand to 8 seats, to a total majority of 62 seats, if they win all the states that voted to the right of the nation in 2016 and 2020, i.e. if they just draw even in the national popular vote.
The next Republican trifecta, whether under a President DeSantis in 2024 or some other circumstance, will likely have a much larger Senate majority than under Trump, and a correspondingly easier time passing legislation. Now that’s an interesting thought!
A very good Night!
Personally I don’t care at all for the positions of Glenn Youngkin, the Governor in a fleece vest, but I will confess I’m basking in the good feelings from seeing Terry McAuliffe, the prince of the schoolmarms, go down in flames, not to mention his lockdown-cultist co-partisan over in New Jersey, Phil Murphy, be given a run for his money.
The middle-class goody-goodies in the corporate media melting down into open-mouthed wide-eyed faces at the very idea of “the delta variant of Trumpism” (to use Van Jones’s apt analogy) leaping from strength to strength in their own strongholds has also been delicious to watch.
Yes, November 2, 2021 was a very good night.