When Medill third-year Ben Chasen found out the results of the Nov. 2 elections a day after his 21st birthday, he never could have predicted how far Republicans would advance against Democrats.
“If you study politics, you know that if you’re the party in power, you’re usually in upcoming elections not going to do very well,” Chasen said. “But I didn’t know it was going to turn this quickly.”
On Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, all eyes focused on the gubernatorial and mayoral races which took place in several states across the country, including Virginia, Massachusetts and New Jersey.
Because the races occurred only a year after the presidential election, political leaders will look to the results of this election to gather a general consensus on the national political environment heading into the 2022 midterms.
This year’s elections took place under the premise that the government is unified under the control of the Democrats. However, that might not be the case for long. Though it’s normal for the president’s party to lose ground in the first midterm election of their presidency, the GOP only needs to flip five seats in the House and one in the Senate to claim back control. With a sinking approval rating of 38%, Biden would have to deal with even more pressure if Republicans were able to gain oversight of his administration.
This prediction might soon become a reality as Tuesday’s election results have indicated.
Virginia’s gubernatorial elections headlined the day. Without any incumbents in the race, the results would be a major indicator of where the nation would potentially go moving forward.
The race showed Republican Glenn Youngkin was able to defeat Democrat Terry McAuliffe, making him the first Republican to take statewide office in Virginia since 2009.
To figure out why Youngkin took the lead in a state where Biden enjoyed a presidential victory by 10 percentage points just a year prior, Chasen asked Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky at an NU College Democrats event.
Schakowsky noted that even though she didn’t agree with Youngkin’s political stances, she admitted that Youngkin ran an effective campaign which focused on several key issues. Apart from the economy, the biggest topics of Youngkin’s campaign concerned education and race.
He gained the support of conservatives through his promises on banning critical race theory in Virginia’s public school curriculums, ending coronavirus-related school shutdowns and mask mandates and starting a charter school program. He harnessed the support of moderates and cut into Democratic margins by setting money aside for teacher raises and special education in his education budget.
With Biden’s declining popularity and Youngkin’s ability to keep his distance from Trump, the combination was just enough to push Youngkin ahead to victory. Chasen also believes there was more enthusiasm surrounding Youngkin’s campaign in general.
“[The Democrats] nominating someone who had been governor and then went away, particularly when there were, I think, candidates with bolder and more exciting platforms in the primary, was probably a mistake,” Chasen said.
Despite the disappointing results in Virginia, the Democrats were still able to make gains in other areas.
On the mayoral side, Democrats enjoyed several historic victories. Michelle Wu became Boston’s first Asian-American and female mayor. New York City also welcomed Democrat Eric Adams as the city’s second Black mayor while Democrat Ed Gainey became Pittsburgh’s first Black mayor.
The Democrats also held onto their Democratic governor incumbent Phil Murphy for another term in New Jersey, but only by a slim margin.
At first, Democrats expected Murphy to win against Republican nominee Jack Ciattarelli. This was the same state in which Biden enjoyed a 16-point victory over Trump in the presidential race just a year ago.
However, the polls continually defied those predictions until Murphy was virtually tied with Ciattarelli. The race remained too close to call for almost 24 hours. At one point, a fraction of a percent separated the candidates out of 2.4 million votes cast.
Murphy led his campaign on progressive pandemic response, which successfully propelled New Jersey out of the worst of the pandemic. However, Ciattarelli appealed to voters with one of the most crucial issues in the state – taxes. This gave him an advantage over Murphy, the latter of whom downplayed the issue’s importance.
During voting, Murphy was still able to surge ahead thanks to the larger number of registered Democrats than Republicans in the state. For Chasen, Murphy’s lucky win isn’t enough to override the growing issue which Democrats have to confront.
“I think just as a whole, Virginia Democrats, or maybe the National Democratic Party, didn’t take [the elections] as seriously as they might have needed to,” Chasen said. “I think, if anything, it serves as a wake up call now for 2022.”
Yet, when it comes to facing reality, Chasen believes that the Democrats won’t be able to hold onto either the House or the Senate. He offers one piece of advice to the Democratic Party in hopes they might make a comeback.
“Get it together,” Chasen says. “You have a popular agenda. As members of the party in power, look at what your constituents want and what the American people want. Do the common sense things people have been expecting and wanting for years. That’s how you build a voting bloc, in my opinion.”