WASHINGTON – Staggering from a flurry of unexpected losses, a number of Democrats on Wednesday pleaded with President Joe Biden and his party’s lawmakers to address the quality of life issues that plagued their candidates in Tuesday’s election from heavily Spanish-born San Antonio to the suburbs. Virginia, New Jersey and New York.
While the Democrats were preparing for the close race for Virginia’s governor, they were caught off guard by the intensity of backlash against their party in a major out-of-year election. Republicans said all three Virginia offices were likely to take control of the State House of Delegates, and came close to upsetting New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, whose re-election was deemed safe by bipartisan officials.
Equally frustrating for Democrats were some of the less visible competition: Powerful New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney stalked a trucker who ran a meager campaign; a Hispanic Republican turned over a Democratic seat in south San Antonio; and Democrats were beaten in local races on Long Island.
The scale of the party’s failures has shown that voters are tired of the demands of the still ongoing coronavirus pandemic and unhappy with the rising prices and shortages of goods they face every day. Although the Democrats’ strength in cities and some large suburbs saved them from even more serious losses, their electoral coalition showed signs of destruction as voters expressed their displeasure with the ruling party.
Responding to Tuesday’s results as a nightly wake-up call, Democrats who voted the following year said that if Biden and other party leaders did not address voter grievances at home, they would likely lose their majority in Congress.
“We were so willing to take the global pandemic seriously, but we’re not ready to say, ‘Yes, inflation is a problem and the supply chain is a problem and we are short of workers in our workforce,” said Rep. Abigail Spahnberger, a Virginia Democrat facing serious re-election. “We keep it quiet and want to acknowledge the problems only in those areas over which we dominate.”
Moreover, Spahnberger said that Biden must not forget that for many voters his mandate was very limited: to remove former President Donald Trump from their television screens and make American life normal again.
“Nobody elected him as Democratic Roosevelt, they chose him to be normal and end the chaos,” she said, referring to the broad agenda the president is trying to implement with a minimal majority in the legislature.
On Wednesday, Democrats in Washington appear equally determined to push forward Biden-signed domestic legislation: a massive infrastructure bill and a multimillion-dollar welfare package and climate change initiatives. Both moderate and liberal legislators say they feel a renewed need to show voters that they can do big things.
But Democratic officials also admitted that voters appeared to have punished the party for spending months in opaque talks on Capitol Hill over legislation they took little time to clarify.
Many progressive Democrats believe that the only way the party can reach out to voters in the next year is by providing them with a series of achievements aimed at improving their quality of life. Passing the most complete version of the presidential welfare and climate legislation is critical to motivating voters over the medium term, they said.
“We see our base’s expectations not being met and that stifles the vote in and of itself,” said Rep. Raul Grijalwa, a progressive Arizona resident who expressed frustration with moderates sticking to the party’s agenda and said that will no longer adhere to it. to “this code of silence” about Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. “We are angry with them, but we can’t say anything because it might make them even weirder.”
However, Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Long Island Democrat, said the party should be careful not to include too much in its welfare legislation. “I don’t understand that some of my more progressive colleagues who spoke last night are now showing us that we need to do both of these accounts and add even more progressive things,” Rice said. “What we are talking about does not resonate with voters.”
Where both factions agree is that Democrats will be punished again in 2022 if Americans don’t feel better about the country’s direction than they do today.
Biden and his aides effectively gambled on their presidency, believing that voters would reward him – and other Democrats – for lifting the country out of a dire public health crisis and returning it to economic prosperity. His aides have repeatedly briefed members of Congress on plans to herald a rebuilding of the country ahead of the midterm elections and to educate voters on how Democratic initiatives have improved their lives.
That said, even though the economy has partially recovered and the pandemic has receded significantly, Biden hasn’t begun reporting that the happy days are back. He also did not undertake any large-scale and sustained campaign to remind people of the economic incentives and mass vaccination programs that shaped his administration in the early days.
In the absence of such a concerted message from the president, many voters appear to have fallen into a state of grim pessimism. In both Virginia and New Jersey, polls consistently show that the vast majority believe the country is on the wrong track, even though most American adults have now been vaccinated and schools have reopened.
Now, Democratic officials say, the party must do more to address deep electorate malaise, or they risk watching voters default back to the GOP.
“People are tired and confused and want to get back to their normal life, whatever it is,” said Loretta Weinberg, a New Jersey Democratic senator. “They want their schools to open, and they want their healthcare to be protected, and they want to be able to work and do business.”
Weinberg, the party’s longtime leader, said Democrats hadn’t sufficiently heeded the demoralizing effects of the coronavirus pandemic. On the right, she said, there was a “horrifying and hateful” attitude towards government officials who were battling the disease. But there was no equal and opposite political participation among Democrats.
“We are a state with high property taxes, a very densely populated, very diverse state, with all the problems of people living together during a pandemic – tough decisions to close schools and close the economy,” she said. “And everything returned to normal.”
In Virginia, Rep. Donald McEachin said voters are annoyed at “getting back to normal as soon as possible,” and called on his fellow Democrats to respond directly to that impatience.
“To the extent that things go wrong, they need us as leaders and as government officials to acknowledge this and tell them how we’re going to do it better,” Makichin said.
The Richmond Democrat has accused Gov. Terry McAuliffe not only of failing to attract anxious voters, but also of a particularly pernicious commission sin. McAuliffe, he said, undermined Democrats with “terrible distortion” towards the end of the campaign, stating in a debate that he did not think “parents should tell schools what they should teach.”
The remark seemed to ignore the role of parents in shaping their children’s education – and Glenn Youngkin, the Republican nominee for governor, took it as proof that Democrats are indifferent to voter dissatisfaction.
“You can’t tell a group of people who have been homeschooling their children for 18 months or so that their opinion of their children’s education doesn’t matter,” Makichin said, stressing, “I really think we are like the party must admit that people have been through a lot in the last 18 months. “
The tactical disagreement within the party is how much to continue to tie Republicans to Trump, as McAuliffe has done at the expense of any other message in Virginia.
Some lawmakers, such as Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, say Tuesday’s results showed the Trump focus is ineffective.
But Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, chairman of the Congressional Democratic Campaign Committee, had no qualms about it.
“Glenn Young got away with being everything to everyone and we can’t let them do that,” Maloney said, adding, “House Republicans have staked their fate with Trump’s toxic agenda of electoral lies and whistle-blowing. to minimize the pandemic of ignorance of the attack on the Capitol. “
More unexpectedly, the Democrats’ defeat on Tuesday was not as overwhelming as the last time the party controlled the presidency and Congress in 2009, when the Republicans won the Virginia governorship by 17 percentage points, as well as the New Jersey governorship. The deepening polarization has strengthened Democrats in some suburban jurisdictions, such as Virginia’s Fairfax County, which McAuliffe won 30 percentage points in his return bid.
These suburban voters, who still despise Trump, may not be available to Republicans next year. There are two sides to the country’s growing polarization, however, and the huge losses suffered by Democrats in rural Virginia and New Jersey demonstrated that they were at serious risk of losing even more underpopulated states and areas next year.
What inspires some optimism in the Democrats is the idea that while their candidates ran against an unseemly backdrop of intra-party legislative controversy this year, they will be loudly announcing their accomplishments next year.
“When we talk about a process, we are losing, but once the process is complete, we have a lot to say about what we are doing for real people,” said John Anzalone, a Biden researcher.
Of course, by the mid-term of 2010, Democrats had the opportunity to push the Affordable Care Act and still suffered huge losses – in part because they were not considered sufficiently focused on post-crisis economic recovery.
The fallout from the pandemic, especially for students and parents, is “a national crisis and pretending it’s not fooling anyone,” said Howard Wolfson, a longtime Democratic strategist. “Our collective conversation must match what people care about.”
Wolfson said Democrats must make a “course correction” and acknowledge that Biden must fulfill his pledge to “fight COVID and give Washington back some normal bipartisan politics.”
If they don’t, he said, “yesterday’s rain will look like a drizzle because a hurricane is coming.”