In New Jersey, where Democratic incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy once led Republican former state legislator Jack Ciattarelli by 26 points, the two are in a dead heat, with about 13% of ballots still to be tallied.
While Murphy could hold on in the Garden State, these results are setting off alarm bells among national Democrats. One Democratic congressman described the New Jersey results as a disaster and said Congress should “have passed infrastructure a month ago.” There is an intraparty blame game beginning already and it isn’t clear who will win the argument.
But this much is clear. In recent presidents’ first years, both Virginia and New Jersey have flipped from the president’s party to the other party — and have portended major losses in the next year’s midterms.
As with any governor’s race, local issues mattered. The Virginia race in particular may have been decided by a contentious debate over what’s being taught in the state’s K-12 schools. But as with every race lately, they were affected heavily by the national backdrop.
Youngkin managed to hold Donald Trump at arm’s length, welcoming his supporters and echoing some of his rhetoric, but keeping Trump out of the state. Youngkin also made inroads into the crucial suburban vote with a focus on education.
But McAuliffe explicitly and repeatedly tried to link Youngkin to Trump, and was happy to tie himself to President Biden in the early part of the year, when President Biden’s approval ratings were strong. As Biden slid, so did McAuliffe.
The President and Capitol Hill Democratic leaders had hoped to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill by Election Day, hoping that getting the popular bill into law would boost both McAuliffe and Murphy. In fact, in early October, McAuliffe urged Congress to act. It didn’t happen — nor will his return to office.