WASHINGTON (AP) – The danger lights are blinking for President Joe Biden after a Democratic setback in this week’s election, but the president sees no reason to panic.
Just a year after riding in the White House with a record 81 million votes, Biden saw Democratic stalwart Terry McAuliffe fall to first-time Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin in Virginia’s run for governor, a state that the president won by 10 percentage points. had won from . In New Jersey, incumbent Phil Murphy barely won in a state that Biden won by 16 percentage points.
But with some left-wing warnings that Democrats face five-alarm fire, Biden is making the case that the mood of voters – and Democratic fortunes – will improve when Congress gets to pass its domestic agenda.
“People need a little room to breathe. They are amazed. And what happened was that I think we have to change their standard of living and give them a little more room to breathe, just to deliver results,” Biden said on Wednesday.
The president parsed the election results after delivering remarks at the White House to show federal approval of COVID-19 shots for young children, declaring it a “day of relief and celebration” for families.
But as he argued that his administration was making progress in containing the pandemic and that his household spending plan is the balm to pacify angry voters, the president rejected the idea that Democrats’ poor performance in elections delayed intraparty was linked to the stalled $1 trillion infrastructure bill and advancing a 10-year, $1.75 trillion package of social and environmental initiatives.
Instead, Biden said, even if the bill is passed before Tuesday’s election, it may not have meant much to McAuliffe, who garnered more votes than any Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Commonwealth history.
“I’m not sure I’ll be able to change the number of very conservative people who turned out in red districts that were Trump voters,” Biden said. “But maybe. Maybe.”
Voter surveys tell a different story. three quarter voters said the talks in Washington on Biden’s governing agenda were a significant factor in his vote. Those voters were more likely to support Youngkin, according to preliminary results from AP VoteCast, a poll of Virginia voters.
The president now sees that his support has waned, with 47% of Virginia voters approving of his job performance and 53% disapproving—a similar finding among American adults nationwide in a recent AP-NORC poll. the division.
Representative Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, said the results in Virginia, where GOP candidates also won statewide races for lieutenant governor and attorney general, should be a wake-up call for Democrats — and Biden — ahead of the 2022 midterm elections in which They are looking to protect a razor-thin majority in the House and Senate.
“I think the president’s tanking approval rating actually made it very difficult for the ticket to rise above that,” Connolly said,
But in making the case that things are not as bad as they seem, White House officials pointed to established historical patterns in the two states that suggested the race for Democrats would be an uphill climb, no matter what.
Even as Virginia has gone Democratic in recent years, the party of the incumbent president has lost the governor’s race in 11 of the 12 elections there. In New Jersey, Murphy’s slim victory marked the first time an incumbent Democratic governor was re-elected in 44 years.
Biden looked at the results and suggested no reset was necessary for his White House.
He spoke with an affirmation of the many factors grinding on Americans – the lingering pandemic, rising costs at the gas pump, uncertainty about the economy – as if the problems would go away if he could pass his agenda.
“If I’m able to pass, sign my Build Back Better initiative into law, I’m in a position where you’ll see a lot of those things improving quickly and rapidly,” the president said.
While not exactly favorable, the moment dates back to 2010 when Democrats called President Barack Obama a “rounder” in the midterm election. The party lost 63 seats in the House, while Republicans also grabbed six gubernatorial seats and controlled 20 state legislative chambers.
At the time, the economy was improving after the Great Recession. But for many Americans, it wasn’t fast enough, even as the Obama administration pushed for more than $800 billion in stimulus. Obama also managed to get his signature health care legislation passed into law.
Still, the rebound was not enough for most of America. And Republicans hit the linchpin of the law—requiring that every American be insured or pay a fine—as government overreach.
Similarly, the economy battling the pandemic continues to progress even after the downturn in the early days of the pandemic, and a relative sense of normalcy has returned, while the delta version continues to claim hundreds of lives every day. Is.
White House officials insisted they are optimistic that the problems for Biden and Democrats will be short-lived, political pain will ease as COVID-19 cases decline and children get shots, and Democrats push for infrastructure bills and the president. Will get closer to passing the domestic agenda. .
But if the past is prelude, the burden of the moment could prove too heavy on voters, even if Biden gets what he wants.
“Historically, passing big laws doesn’t lead to electoral success,” said Kyle Kondick, election analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “Voters often don’t reward those things and sometimes they punish aggressive legislation.”
Editor’s note – Aamer Madani has covered the White House for the Associated Press since 2019. Colleen Long has covered criminal justice and government for the Associated Press since 2006.
Associated Press writers Alexandra Jaffe and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.