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It's Not That Democrats Lost. It's That They Lost Everywhere

In an early vote of no-confidence in the Biden presidency, Republicans made inroads among suburban and Hispanic voters, while expanding their already long reach into rural precincts.

Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin and his staff watch results come in on election night at the Westfields Marriott Washington Dulles on Nov. 2, 2021, in Chantilly, Va. Youngkin won the election as did many other Republicans in a strong showing at the polls.
(Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/TNS)
Four years ago, New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney survived the most expensive legislative race in American history, a $25 million brawl with the New Jersey Education Association. On Tuesday, it appears he lost his seat to Edward Durr, a truck driver who spent $153 on his challenge.

Sweeney wasn’t the only New Jersey Democrat to lose his seat, although the party held onto its legislative majorities. It also appears that Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy narrowly survived a surprisingly strong challenge from Jack Ciattarelli, a Republican former assemblyman.

But the fact that Republicans were able to score gains in an overwhelmingly blue state – Joe Biden carried New Jersey by 16 percentage points last year – points to trouble for Democrats all around the country heading into next year’s midterms. Democrats lost in all kinds of areas where they normally win, from South Texas to South Jersey and Long Island.

“These results should be an alarm clock rousing us from sleep," said Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democratic congressman. "If we don’t deliver then we won’t deserve to govern.”

Republican Glenn Youngkin’s victory in the Virginia governor’s race was the top story out of Tuesday, but looking ahead, the bigger danger for Democrats is that Republicans made gains everywhere – among suburbanites, rural voters and Hispanics.

“It tore through the veil of the national Democratic talking points, and the myths they’ve tried to sell for years have been laid bare,” says David Carney, a Republican consultant. “It’s a tenet of national Hispanic organizations on the left that somehow every Democrat will win if enough Hispanics or people of color vote, and it’s not true.”

The president’s party nearly always pays a price in midterms. The Biden presidency is not shaping up to be any kind of exception. Republicans laid all manner of problems at his doorstep, from inflation and the messy Afghanistan withdrawal to rising energy prices and the vaccine employer mandate they view as unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats have proven to be much better at finger-pointing than at passing actual legislation, at least thus far. “It’s just that people are angry,” Carney says. “It’s going to wreck where a lot of Democrats are with their base.”

Biden’s approval ratings are now in the low 40s. That’s worse than any modern president – with the exception of Donald Trump. Democrats continue to tar Republicans by association with Trump, but on Tuesday, Trump’s name wasn’t on any ballots.

“It's clear that campaigning against Trump worked a lot better when Trump was president,” says Stephen Farnsworth, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va.

Where Republicans Made Gains

Early exit polling in the Virginia race showed that Youngkin took a majority of the Hispanic vote. “I assume the exits are wrong but Youngkin carrying Hispanic vote in non-Florida setting would be another watershed moment in the new GOP,” tweeted Republican consultant Mark Davin Harris.

Later results suggested Youngkin took just under a third of the Hispanic vote. But he clearly made gains. Manassas Park City, the most Hispanic locality in the state, saw a double-digit shift in support toward the GOP, compared with last year’s presidential vote.

In New Jersey, Ciattarelli also outperformed prior GOP candidates in heavily minority areas such as Bergen County. In Texas, Republicans continued winning converts in South Texas, a heavily Hispanic region that has been solidly Democratic but has begun trending toward the GOP.

Republican John Lujan won a special election to flip a Texas House seat that had been Democratic. Biden carried the San Antonio district last year by 14 points. Associated Republicans of Texas, which backed Lujan, said his win “marks the beginning of Republicans winning Democrat-held seats in South Texas in the 2022 election cycle.”

“I think the main thing is that contrary to the lazy narrative from the left, which is unfortunately often picked up uncritically by too many people in the media, is that Hispanics are not a monolith,” says Chuck DeVore, vice president of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. “I think the data would suggest that it’s more complex than that.”

It’s easy to read too much into a single, low-turnout special election, cautions Mark Jones, a Rice University political scientist. Lujan, “a great campaigner,” he said, had taken this seat in a special election before. But his victory does demonstrate that Republicans appear to be more fired-up about low-profile races than Democrats – or certainly more than Democrats were in special elections during Trump’s presidency.

Suburban and Rural Strength

Democrats did enjoy some victories on Tuesday. They continued their dominance of big-city mayoral races, with progressives winning in cities including Boston, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

But the Democratic vote is heavily concentrated in major metropolitan areas. Even at that level, more moderate Democrats won mayoral contests in cities such as Buffalo and New York. The early vote indicates that former City Council President Bruce Harrell won the Seattle mayor’s race over Lorena González, the more progressive current council president.

Outside the cities, there was bad news everywhere for Democrats. Youngkin ate into Democratic strongholds such as Loudoun and Fairfax counties in the Northern Virginia suburbs outside of Washington. Results were even better for the GOP in the suburbs of New York, with a red wave sweeping across Long Island.

Republicans are claiming victory in the Nassau County executive’s race, as well as the district attorney election there and in Suffolk County. Republicans appear to have taken over the Suffolk County Legislature and may have won a supermajority. GOP candidates won races down to the town supervisor level, even in Democratic strongholds such as North Hempstead.

In Connecticut, Republicans scored victories in local races across the heavily suburban state, including the mayoral elections in Bristol, Danbury and New Britain.

Meanwhile, Republicans only added to their stranglehold on the rural vote. Youngkin improved on already strong GOP performances in Virginia counties such as Augusta, Lee, Rockingham and Wythe. He took more than 80 percent of the vote in southwestern Virginia counties, such as Buchanan. Four years ago, Buchanan County gave Republicans a 52-percentage point margin. On Tuesday, the margin there had swollen to 70 percentage points.

“Republicans are doing even better in rural areas than they did last year, and Democratic advantages in the suburbs are looking to be smaller than they have been in recent elections,” says Farnsworth, the University of Mary Washington professor.

With Democrats performing worse in suburban and rural areas, while also seeing slippage in their share of the Hispanic vote, Republicans can hardly wait for 2022.

“Certainly last night’s results will make it even more difficult for Democrats to recruit high-powered candidates to run,” DeVore says. “I think there are significant implications for next year that don’t bode well for Democrats nationally, and certainly not in Texas.”
Alan Greenblatt is the editor of Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
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