What the Virginia election result will mean for Democrats and Republicans

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ALEXANDRIA, Virginia – During one of the most eventful weeks of her presidency – as she sought to unite her turbulent party and bring together two high-profile bills – Nancy Pelosi made time to come together in his Capitol suite with a group of Democratic lawmakers from New Jersey and Virginia themselves carry an urgent message.

They warned Ms Pelosi that if the gubernatorial candidates in those two states, especially former governor Terry McAuliffe in liberal-leaning Virginia, were to lose on Tuesday, it could have a cascading effect on the party, prompting them to lose. Democrats to step down from President Biden and his ambitious agenda, and possibly even push some into retirement.

Representative Gerald Connolly of Virginia said he took advantage of last Tuesday’s meeting to urge Ms Pelosi to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which had previously authorized the Senate, and to share her concern over fortune party. “You don’t have to be on the front lines to worry,” he said, citing the word House Democrats use to describe their most politically at risk incumbents.

Unable to overcome mutual mistrust between a group of House progressives and Senate moderates, however, Ms Pelosi withdrew public works legislation hours after Mr Biden’s visit to Capitol Hill on Thursday, dashing the group’s hopes to deliver Mr. McAuliffe and other Democrats. on the ballot a victory after a drumbeat of two months of bad news.

The former governor of Virginia and his top aides, who pushed Congress and White House officials to pass the bill for more than a month, were both stunned and furious, Democrats said. They were astonished that Ms Pelosi was forced to postpone the vote for the second time in a month, perplexed as to why the president did not make a more aggressive push and despairing of the impact of a new one. series of negative stories from Washington.

“The past two and a half months give the impression that Democrats are in disarray,” said Rep. Filemon Vela, a Democrat from Texas who has raised funds for Mr. McAuliffe.

The gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey that take place a year after the presidential election have long been the first political temperature checks of the new White House and the new Congress, especially among the suburbs so plentiful. in both states. But rarely have traditionally contested contests over decidedly local issues been so closely tied to the national political debate and, in the case of Virginia, have come such a great omen for the future of both sides.

Mr McAuliffe’s strategy of relentlessly tying his Republican rival, Glenn Youngkin, to Donald J. Trump represents the best test yet of the strength the former president still exerts on his party in the Blue and Purple states. At the same time, Mr. Youngkin’s whimsical footwork regarding Mr. Trump – avoiding his embrace without alienating him or his base – and his attacks on Mr. McAuliffe on the role of parents in schools will indicate whether the candidates of the GOP can bypass Trumpism by drawing attention to what they support is democratic extremism on race and gender issues.

Away from those old statewide racing rules like property taxes and teacher salaries, the problems in Virginia reflect the canyon-like polarization of the country and what each side describes as the terrible threat posed by the other.

For Republicans, Virginia represents the promise of renewal, the chance to rebuild their party in a fairly forbidden state – and without having to make the difficult choice of embracing or fully rejecting Mr. Trump. Speaking to supporters near a farmer’s market in Alexandria’s old town on Saturday morning, Youngkin said his victory would send “a shock wave across this country.”

Suffering another loss here, however, would make Republicans understand that they cannot continue to delay their internal judgment on the former president and that, even in exile, his unpopularity remains the party’s biggest obstacle.

Because Mr Biden won the State by 10 points last year and Mr McAuliffe started the race with an advantage befitting the former governor that he is, the most important implications in Virginia are for the democrats. The party is also haunted by recent history: their defeat in the Virginia gubernatorial race in 2009 – the last time Democrats controlled the White House and both houses of Congress – foreshadowed the party’s electoral erasure of the year. next.

If Mr McAuliffe loses or barely wins what most polls show as a neck-and-neck contest, the moderates will call for immediate passage of the infrastructure bill. The Liberals will say that the Democratic Party and democracy itself are in such a precarious state that they must push through new election laws. And strategists across the party’s ideological spectrum will face a political playing field in the midterm elections that will extend deeper into Blue America.

“We’re going to have to change our calculation of what a race is and look at the districts Trump lost,” said Rebecca Pearcey, Democratic consultant. “Even if he wins,” she added, referring to Mr McAuliffe, “we’ll have to re-evaluate what the card looks like on Wednesday, because Tuesday won’t be a good night.”

With Mr Biden’s approval ratings plummeting among independents thanks to the summer resurgence of Covid-19, the botched pullout from Afghanistan and rising inflation, Democrats are also bracing for additional retirements among lawmakers who prefer not to run in a newly redesigned district or risk ending their careers in defeat.

Already, three House Democrats announced their departure earlier this month. Mr McAuliffe’s defeat in a state Mr Biden so easily won would likely hasten that exodus, as lawmakers will attribute it to the president’s unpopularity. “We’re going to see a lot more by the end of the year,” predicted Pearcey.

Ms Pelosi is keenly aware of these leakage risks – she herself is – and has privately expressed concern about the fallout from Mr McAuliffe’s run. Last week, she told a fellow Democrat that the House’s failure to pass the infrastructure bill could put McAuliffe at risk, according to a lawmaker familiar with the exchange.

A longtime friend of Mr. McAuliffe’s, Ms. Pelosi made the front page of a fundraiser for him last week and personally gave him $ 250,000 and raised more than three times as much. She has also spoken to him by telephone on several occasions about negotiations on the infrastructure bill.

A backlash next year might be inevitable in part because, as one longtime Democratic lawmaker noted, the party often suffers at the polls after pushing an ambitious agenda of the kind Congress Democrats are negotiating. with care.

“Someone reminded me: in ’66, after everything we did in ’65, we were beaten,” said Representative Robert C. Scott of Virginia, referring to the losses the Democrats suffered after overtaking much of the Great Society. “We passed Obamacare and we were beaten.”

Just as the protracted debate over the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and 2010 overshadowed their stimulus legislation at the time, Democrats this year have focused more on negotiating their massive twin bills than promoting of their previous Covid relief legislation.

While Democratic lawmakers have focused almost exclusively on the infrastructure bill and their broader social protection and climate proposal – issues they failed to reach consensus on – Americans outside of Washington are became impatient with the persistent virus and skyrocketing commodity prices.

“If you listen to the Democratic speeches, that’s all we haven’t done,” Scott said, pointing out that the child tax credit passed in the Covid bailout earlier this year was often overlooked.

Mr Vela, a moderate who has demanded a vote on infrastructure since August, said a McAuliffe defeat should spur swift passage of the bill, which passed the Senate with 69 votes. “Progressives should wake up and realize that tying the two processes together was a huge mistake,” he said, adding: “This is from someone supporting both bills.”

But many on the left believe the party’s vulnerabilities, exposed by the prospect of a loss in Virginia, where they haven’t lost a statewide race since 2009, only underscore the need. to remove the obstruction of the Senate and to pass sweeping election laws that could prevent following a catastrophic loss of power in 2022 and in the long term.

“A close race in Virginia would indicate how difficult the midterms will be for Democrats and the urgency of enacting Democratic reform,” said Waleed Shahid, spokesman for the leftist Justice Democrats who grew up in Virginia.

Progressives were already unenthusiastic about Mr McAuliffe, a mainstay of the party establishment and a former Democratic national president, and they were angered that he did not do more this year to help lawmakers state party to retain the majority they won in the House. delegates in 2019.

“Whatever happens Tuesday, a lesson we already know from Virginia is that we had better put winning state legislatures first, because our democracy depends on it – because they do,” said Daniel Squadron, who heads the States Project, which is dedicated to electing Democrats to state houses. .

For the Democrats of Northern Virginia, who prospered during the Trump years, there is a particularly strong connection between what happens in the nation’s capital and their seats.

Mr Connolly recalled that at the Halloween parade last week in Vienna, Virginia, a handful of people shouted at him to pass the infrastructure bill, a major quality of life issue in his crowded neighborhood. by traffic. “It really caught my attention,” he said.

Now, he said, he hopes it doesn’t take another high-profile defeat in his home state to get his party’s attention.

“If the past is a prologue,” he said, “we can’t have a repeat of what happened in 2009.”

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