Ekaterina BlinovaAll materialsWrite to the authorRepublican Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governor’s race on Wednesday, according to preliminary results. McAuliffe conceded defeat to Youngkin on Wednesday morning. What does the outcome of the gubernatorial race say about Joe Biden’s presidency and forthcoming midterm elections in 2022?The GOP’s slender win in the Virginia gubernatorial race has given Democrats a case of the shivers since they’ve regarded the state as a blue stronghold for the past decade. Youngkin’s rival, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, was defeated even though last year Joe Biden captured Old Dominion by a 10-point margin.
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"This is a massive sea-change in Virginia politics given that the state had been trending strongly Democratic-progressive in the past decade", says Dr Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.
The national context played a big role, according to Rozell: Biden’s declining popularity and the perception that Democrats cannot govern effectively in Washington damaged the Democratic brand and was a big drag on McAuliffe’s campaign, he believes.
Voters appear to be generally dissatisfied with the direction of the country, the ongoing pandemic, and an uncertain economic future, and expressed their frustration by voting against the president’s party in Virginia, echoes John J. McGlennon, professor at the College of William and Mary, and a member of the Board of Supervisors of James City County, Virginia.
“The turnout was very high for a governor’s election, and this was probably due to the level of frustration among voters”, McGlennon says. “Turnout tends to be driven by anger rather than satisfaction, and that was true in Virginia today”.The Virginia race was also a mini-referendum on the White House, deems David S. Kerr, adjunct professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond. Biden’s plummeting poll numbers and his administration’s failures did not play well for McAuliffe, according to the professor, who personally does not pin the whole blame on the sitting president.
"President Biden has had a host of issues that have made it tough sailing for down ballot candidates", Kerr says. "Inflation, gasoline prices, our ignominious retreat from Afghanistan (Virginia is very military and security minded and that didn't go over well with many), the bizarre 'great resignation', and shortages. And, yes, the even crazier anti-vaccine response".
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Youngkin Did the Unthinkable
The Associated Press argues that in Virginia the GOP has fashioned a new playbook, with Glenn Youngkin “running away from the national Republican Party and its most prominent leaders — especially Donald Trump”, However, according to American political observers, something different happened: while being “a typical milquetoast, pro-business Republican”, as The Atlantic described him, Youngkin managed to attract not only moderates and independents but also MAGA voters.
"Youngkin did what many said could not be done – appeal to the Trump voters while winning swing voters", Rozell explains. "He signalled just enough to Trump voters to hold their support, enabling him to reach out to a broader voter base".
Ironically, McAuliffe helped him to do that, the professor highlights: McAuliffe ran on the theme that Youngkin is a Trump acolyte, thus effectively convincing Trump voters that Youngkin was their man.
Make no mistake: Youngkin faced an uneasy balancing task, highlights David S. Kerr.
“He [needed] to convince the GOP base, very conservative, that he is one of them – while at the same time, trying to woo some moderate Democrats, former Republicans alienated by Trump, and independents – by convincing them that he is not Donald Trump… and that rather he is a normal guy, an accomplished businessman, and a man with a plan”.
What’s Next for Virginia?
Glenn Youngkin’s apparent win is likely to bring certain changes to Virginia policies, being in some ways, a return to the traditional Republican agenda, according to Quardricos Driskell, a professor of politics at George Washington University.
“It would mean tax cuts – eliminating Virginia’s 2.5% grocery tax, doubling the standard deduction for income tax, and ways to cut regulation to spur economic growth opportunities”, envisions Driskell. “But a Youngkin would also mean more law enforcement funding, more local control for education, and no COVID-19 vaccination mandates”.
Youngkin’s win will mark an abrupt shift to the right in a state where the governor has a lot of power, though not the ability to seek consecutive re-election, says John J. McGlennon.”Virginia had been moving strongly to the left, and this will stall and perhaps reverse some of the policy changes of the last two years”, he notes.At the same time, however, Virginia will have divided party control, with the governor of one party and at least one house of the legislature in Democratic hands, according to the academic.
"The House of Delegates looks like it will shift back to Republican control", suggests Dr David Richards, associate professor, International Relations & Security Studies at the University of Lynchburg, Virginia. "This means that Youngkin will have some room to work in getting some of his agenda passed in the legislature, but the Democratically-controlled Senate can still be a roadblock, and the House and Youngkin will certainly have to work with the Senate to move any legislation forward. I do not foresee any major changes going forward because of this divided government".
On the other hand, Old Dominion is a generally conservative state, in the old meaning of the word, Richards says. Even though the Democrats have been in control for the past few years, “Virginia did not just enact everything the national Democratic Party wanted”, the professor stresses.No Room for Error: Democratic Strategists Pessimistic About Party’s Prospects in 2022 Midterms18 October, 16:19 GMT
Is the Virginia Race Outcome a Harbinger for 2022 Midterms?
Because 2021 is an off-election year meaning not a congressional election year, the country always looks to Virginia as a temperature gauge for our national politics – this race is always nationalised, according to Quardricos Driskell.”Virginia , in particular, attracts attention because of its distinctive role as a state that does not allow a governor to seek consecutive re-election”, Driskell says. “It provides for a more even playing field. And it is one of the few races out there of significance, it is one of the few opportunities in an off-election to read in the tea leaves about the forthcoming midterm elections”.
Youngkin’s win appears to be a serious blow to the Democratic Party, according to the professor, who sees the recent race as part of “a proxy war between former President Trump and current President Biden”.
"Furthermore, a Youngkin win will also serve as further evidence that Trump continues to strangle the soul and life of the Republican Party", Driskell concludes.