Off-year elections don’t tend to get much attention outside the states and towns that hold them, but 2021 has become a political canary in the coal mine – especially for National Democrats who are concerned about the fall in the number of polls and a stalled agenda.
Two key governor races will provide insight into the extent to which an electorate weary of the pandemic, anxious and disheartened by inflation is prepared to punish ruling Democrats and give Republican challengers a chance to change. Two mayoral races offer a glimpse into the reach of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
Democrats are frantic about losing a marquee race in Virginia, where veteran Democrat official Terry McAuliffe is run neck and neck against wealthy businessman Glenn Youngkin. While the gubernatorial races in the Old Dominion tend to be tight – and the ruling White House party tends to win the top office in Virginia – a loss of McAuliffe would be a devastating psychological blow. for a party that is already facing an intimidating 2022. mid-season.
If Youngkin – who seems to have the momentum now – defeats McAuliffe, “Republicans nationwide will see this as a great indicator of how to run a campaign,” says Bill Cunningham, a veteran political and communications consultant for New York.
Former President Donald Trump is a continuing complication for GOP candidates, who need his base to run but also want to avoid alienating independents and moderate Republicans who don’t like the former president, according to analysts. Youngkin managed to speak to Trump’s base while keeping the bombastic figure at bay.
Youngkin also used K-12 education as a tool to exploit parents’ concerns about teaching “critical race theory” or books with provocative themes. Critical race theory – the idea that race and racism is an integral part of virtually all American institutions – is not taught in Virginia schools, but Youngkin campaigned on the promise to ban it as soon as possible. his first day in office. It also has an ad featuring a local parent who said his high school child was traumatized by being forced to read “Beloved,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning slavery novel, in his Literature class. advanced placement.
“The Virginia race shows another way of being a Republican and winning,” even in a state like Virginia that has moved rapidly to the left over the past twelve years.
Polls show McAuliffe and Youngkin are virtually tied, with the Republican gaining ground in recent weeks. The plurality of Virginians said education was their main problem, according to one Washington Post-Schar School Poll. A slight majority (47%) said they trust McAuliffe more than Youngkin (43%) when it comes to education, and the Democrat is also leading on which candidate is most worthy of Confidence in how to teach racism in schools (45% trust McAuliffe more, versus 43% who trust Youngkin more).
But the fact that a Republican competes so closely on an issue historically associated with Democrats is a sign that McAuliffe has real problems, says Harry Wilson, director of a recent Roanoke College Survey showing McAuliffe barely ahead, 48% to 47%.
“It could be a role model for Republicans” nationally, Wilson says. Even if Youngkin narrowly loses, “this is something Republicans may be able to repeat in 2022,” he adds.
And while Trump is in the shadow of the race in Virginia – sparking outrage from Democrats when he called a GOP rally that featured a flag used in the Jan.6 uprising on Capitol Hill – the president Joe Biden is also a complicating factor.
The president traveled to Virginia last month to campaign with McAuliffe in the strongly Democratic County of Arlington to get the base up. But Biden, after winning Virginia by 10 points in 2020, is now unpopular in Virginia, adding to Democrats’ concerns that the base will stay at home and independents running for Youngkin. Indeed, polls show Youngkin is winning double-digit independents.
Democrats are more comfortable in their efforts to retain the governorship in New Jersey, where incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy is at the top of the polls against his GOP challenger, former state lawmaker and businessman Jack Ciattarelli. Murphy is ahead in most polls with a high single-digit figure – a gap that doesn’t prevent an upheaval but also doesn’t worry Democrats.
Notably, Murphy’s strategy of tying Ciattarelli to Trump appears to be working, according to one Rutgers-Eagleton Poll published Monday. This survey shows that all but one of Murphy’s voters surveyed cited Trump as a reason not to vote for the Republican.
The party is also expected to retain leadership in the mayoral races of New York and Buffalo. But these races also show the power limits of its progressive wing.
In New York, Democratic candidate Eric Adams faces republicans Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels, a group formed in the late 1970s of New Yorkers wearing red berets who patrolled unarmed streets ravaged by crime. Adams, Brooklyn Borough President and former police captain, is set to win the race hands down. Notably, Adams beat much more progressive candidates in the primary. An Adams victory on Tuesday would be an expected victory for the Democratic Party, but also a firm reminder that even in the ultraliberal city of New York, voters are not ready to elect a Socialist or Democratic Socialist to the highest office.
In Buffalo, Democrats appointed a socialist, India Walton, who would become the city’s first black female mayor and the first socialist mayor. She beat incumbent Democrat Byron Brown in an upset cast, a sign of the growing popularity of the party’s progressive and socialist wings.
But Brown – who arguably lost his primary because he barely campaigned, refused to debate Walton and angered voters at a traffic light camera program – mounted a campaign in writing. He is now at the top of the polls, although he has the added burden of getting supporters to write on his behalf on their ballots.
While a Walton victory would be historic, a successful written campaign by Brown would indicate that Buffalo, either, is not ready to have a socialist leader.
Walton spoke of tackling the root causes of crime, such as poverty. And although she said last year that she would indeed campaign on the police fundraising platform, she has avoided using that expression this year.
Republicans, however, are already using the specter of a Walton victory over Democratic candidates for other races in other western New York state jurisdictions, says Shawn Donahue, a political scientist at the University. from Buffalo.
“Republicans have been more effective than Democrats in trying to make them pay for some of the controversial positions that not even the majority of their party members support,” Donahue said, referring to GOP efforts to taint a wide range. democratic candidates as “socialist” or in favor of “police definition”. Tuesday’s results could show just how powerful this strategy could be next year and beyond.