Just one year after President Joe Biden banked a 10-point win and 12 years after a Republican last won statewide office there, businessman Glenn Youngkin was elected governor of Virginia Tuesday.
The first sign of impending doom came at 8:25 p.m. was when Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, a highly respected election analyst, tweeted his trademark line:
“I’ve seen enough: Glenn Youngkin (R) defeats Terry McAuliffe (D) in the Virginia governor’s race.”
Soon after, Republican Governors Association Chairman Doug Ducey released a statement praising Youngkin.
“Glenn ran an excellent and inspiring campaign that raises the bar for candidates across the country. Unlike his opponent, Glenn didn’t need a cast of national surrogates to do his work for him; he connected directly with voters on issues that matter to Virginians.”
And that is the lesson New Hampshire Republicans are saying their party should learn from the Virginia election.
“How many times do we have to be reminded: All politics are local?” said NHGOP Chairman Steve Stepanek. “Youngkin talked about local issues: What’s happening in schools, what people are paying for their groceries, what’s happening in their communities.
“What did [former Gov. Terry] McAuliffe talk about? Biden, Obama, and Trump. That’s not what people care about right now.”
McAuliffe’s strategy was similar to the one New Hampshire Democrats tried to use on Gov. Chris Sununu in 2018 and 2020 — make a vote for the local Republican a vote for Donald Trump. Sununu handily won double-digit victories in a state Biden won by 8 points last year and that no GOP presidential candidate has carried since 2000.
Still, Virginia is viewed — or was viewed — as more solidly Democratic and the ‘But Trump’ strategy would be more effective, some strategists believed.
They were wrong.
“‘But Trump’ hit a big buzz saw,” Trump’s political advisor Kellyanne Conway said Tuesday night. And not just the governor’s office. After a dozen years without a single win at the state level, Republicans swept the statewide offices and could take control of the House of Delegates.
New Hampshire Republicans believe it is a sign of things to come in the Granite State.
“Virginia’s results show how unpopular Biden and the progressives’ agenda is with independents. Its Kryptonite is swing voters,” GOP strategist Dave Carney said. “If Biden’s bumbling incompetence continues, New Hampshire will see a massive wave election.”
Fellow GOP strategist Jim Merrill agrees:
“Youngkin winning in Virginia tonight – a year after Biden won by 10 – is a 98 mph fastball under the chin of every Democrat on the ballot in 2022. It also ensures that Joe Manchin isn’t budging an inch on Biden’s rapidly ossifying legislative agenda.”
Not that Democrats are going down without a fight. State party chair Ray Buckley focused on Democrats’ wins in mayors races across the state, where his party performed well.
“I haven’t paid any attention to anywhere but New Hampshire,” Buckley told NHJournal. “Our historic gains tonight show once again that N.H. Democrats are in good shape to hold the delegation and win the Governorship and 2022 state house races. We bucked the trends in 2014 and 2016 and we will do it in 2020.”
“Very bad night for Chris Sununu,” Buckley added on Twitter. New Hampshire Democrats once again bucked the national trends and won. No matter what Chris runs for in 2022, NHDems will be ready.”
Sununu told NHJournal earlier on Tuesday he thinks Youngkin is “a phenomenal candidate.” And, he said, the education issue is powerful.
“I think parents — and rightly so — were standing up and saying, ‘We have a voice. We have a very important say in the direction of our kids’ education.’ And independent voters agree. I mean, the fact that it’s even debated is kind of bizarre to me. Of course, parents have a huge voice.”
Drew Cline from the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy says education was the key.
“In the last month, education rose to pass the economy as the number one issue in Virginia, as Youngkin won over parents by affirming they should have a say in what their kids learn. Add that to polls nationwide that consistently show school choice to be popular, and we could be looking at education shifting to become a Republican issue. The candidate who sided with parents and students beat the candidate endorsed by the teachers unions, and everyone noticed,” Cline said.
Democrats like Bob Shrum reject the argument that 2021 is an all-but-certain preview of 2022. Shrum, a veteran of eight presidential campaigns and director of the USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future, says 2022 will be “all about the perception of where the economy is, including inflation. And whether COVID is under control. It could be a different world a year from now.”
And, Shrum adds, remember that Biden’s been through this before. “This reminds me of when the media wrote of Joe Biden, said he was done. But he came back and easily won the primary and then the presidency. He went through this in 2020, and I think Democrats will hold steady and stay the course.”
New England-based Republican strategist Pat Griffin doesn’t agree. “Biden and the Democrats are very worried tonight — and they should be. If deep-blue Virginia can go red, so can New Hampshire.”
As one Granite State political insider tweeted Tuesday night, “Start packin’, Maggie Hassan.”