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2021 Elections a Chilling Harbinger for Democrats

The national media has been taking the Democratic Party to task this week after Republican Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia gubernatorial election and heavily-favored incumbent Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, narrowly eked out a reelection victory in New Jersey. This is not a good harbinger for Democrats, which could be looking at large-scale drubbing in 2022 midterm elections without a change in tactics.

The New Yorker’s Benjamin Wallace-Wells said: “Biden’s coalition suddenly seems fragile. Without the soldering presence of the fear of Trump, it is vulnerable to being pulled apart, with college-educated Democrats on one side and working class ones on the other, or progressives on one side and moderate suburbanites on the other.” Wallace-Wells suggests that the votes hint at a dynamic “in which Democrats control most political institutions but have been unable to effectively direct them.”

Virginia Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger thinks the Democratic Party has moved too far to the left. She told the New York Times this week, speaking of President Biden, “nobody elected him to be F.D.R. They elected him to be normal and stop the chaos.”

The New York Times echoed her concerns in a Friday editorial:

Democrats should work to implement policies to help the American people. Congress should focus on what is possible, not what would be possible if Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema and — frankly — a host of lesser-known Democratic moderates who haven’t had to vote on policies they might oppose were not in office.

Democrats agree about far more than they disagree about. But it doesn’t look that way to voters after months and months of intraparty squabbling. Time to focus on — and pass — policies with broad support. Or risk getting run out of office.

The editorial board of The Washington Post expressed similar sentiments in the wake of Tuesday’s election, but also contrasted Virginia’s politics with our own state of Texas: 

Having focused for the campaign’s early months on the canard of election integrity, Mr. Youngkin pivoted this fall by laying out an ambitious economic program, including tax cuts. The cacophony of negative campaigning and culture war wailing tended to drown out that agenda, yet the success of his governorship will be judged more on the latter than the former.

Mr. Youngkin surely understands this, and also that Virginia is not Texas. It’s a moderate place — he is the first Republican elected statewide since 2009, and the state legislature is closely divided, with Democrats holding a razor-thin majority in the state Senate, and Republicans holding one no bigger in the House of Delegates. A full-court press during his governorship to limit abortion access or impede voting or ban books in schools is unlikely to enjoy broad popular support.

Tying Republican candidates to Trump hasn’t generally worked well. It may have worked for Gavin Newsome in Califonia’s recall election, but it didn’t work for the Democrats in 2020, when Republicans unexpectedly gained seats in the House of Representatives. The conservative-leaning Dallas Morning News published a column Thursday entitled, “Virginia elected a Republican governor, lighting a path for the GOP post-Trump.” If they’re right, the Democrats need to start writing a new 2022 play book before it’s too late.

Nick Anderson
Nick Anderson
Writer, editor, photographer and editorial cartoonist Nick Anderson has joined the Reform Austin newsroom, where he will employ the artistic skill and political insights that earned a Pulitzer Prize to drive coverage of Texas government. As managing editor, Anderson is responsible for guiding Reform Austin’s efforts to give readers the unfiltered facts they need to hold Texas leaders accountable. Anderson’s original cartoons will be a regular feature on RA News. “Reform Austin readers understand the consequences of electing politicians who use ideological agendas to divide us, when they should be doing the hard work necessary to make our state government work for everyone,” Anderson said. “As a veteran journalist, I’m excited about Reform Austin’s potential to re-focus conversations on the issues that matter to common-sense Texans – like protecting our neighborhoods from increasingly common disasters, healthcare, just to name a few.” Anderson worked for the Houston Chronicle, the largest newspaper in Texas, from 2006 until 2017. In addition to the Pulitzer, Anderson earned the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Award. He’s also a two-time winner of Columbia College’s Fischetti Award, and the National Press Foundation’s Berryman Award. Anderson’s cartoons have been published in Newsweek, the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune and other papers. In 2005, Anderson won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning while working for the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky. The judges complimented his “unusual graphic style that produced extraordinarily thoughtful and powerful messages.”


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