“It was a red wave,” stated Stephen M. Sweeney, the Democrat President of the New Jersey State Senate and the second most powerful man in the Garden State. The now-defeated Sweeney, who had served in the state legislature since 2002, lost the closely contested 3rd district seat to Edward Durr, a truck driver. “The man who is poised to topple one of New Jersey’s most feared political kingpins has never held public office, he has been a commercial truck driver for 25 years, and he claims to have spent a whopping $153 during the primary portion of his campaign,” NJ.com reported. Durr bested Sweeney by about 2,000 votes.
Statewide polls conducted in New Jersey leading up to election day had incumbent Governor Phil Murphy sitting on solid ground. One week before election day, a Monmouth University poll showed Murphy up 11% over Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli, a former State Assemblymember. The Real Clear Politics average of polls on Election Day had Murphy up 7.8%. As of this writing, Murphy looks likely to retain his seat as he leads by about 65,500 votes with 70,000 provisional ballots yet to be counted, but Ciattarelli has yet to concede. While that may be the case, it’s a far cry from the 11% advantage Murphy thought he had.
Heading into Election Day, New Jersey Democrats held 25 of 40 seats in the Senate and 52 of 80 seats in the Assembly. This year, there were four open seats in the Senate and 11 in the Assembly. So far, Democrats have secured 23 seats in the Senate and 43 in the Assembly, enough to keep majorities. “But early results show Democrats will lose one seat in the Senate and from four to eight seats in the Assembly,” NJ.com reported.
About 300 miles south of Trenton, things went even worse for Virginia Democrats. Former Governor Terry McAuliffe (D-VA) had comfortably led Republican challenger Glenn Youngkin in the polls for months. But the tide was beginning to turn as Election Day approached. Youngkin, a businessman who hasn’t held office before, ended up defeating McAuliffe 51%-49%. While it can be argued that Youngkin’s win was slim, it was a 12-point net improvement over Trump’s 10-point loss in Virginia one year ago.
Throughout the campaign, McAuliffe chose not to talk about issues facing Virginians, instead made the race about Donald Trump. McAuliffe failed to convince voters that Youngkin was Donald Trump; meanwhile, Youngkin, to his credit, ran a disciplined campaign focused on jobs, the economy, and education. What children are taught in schools and the role of parents in their children’s education has now made Loudoun County, a suburban area on the outskirts of Washington, DC, the national epicenter of an emerging political issue. During the last debate between the two Governor hopefuls, McAuliffe stated, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” what political analysts now refer to as his famous last words. McAuliffe championed President Biden’s agenda to his detriment, whereas Youngkin, astutely aware of the impact of rising inflation under Biden, vowed to suspend the state’s gas tax.
The impact of the 2021 Republican red wave in Virginia reverberated down to the statehouse as well, with Republicans on the verge of taking control of the lower chamber. Two races have yet to be called, but both Republicans are leading, and even if only one wins, the chamber will flip, giving national Republicans hope as they look at the 2022 map.
If history is any guide, the dramatic underperformance by Democrats in Virginia means a red wave in November of next year. In every election over the last 20 years (except for the 2001 Virginia race right after 9/11), the worse a Democrat performed compared to the previous year’s Democratic candidate for president has predicted the switch and margin of seats in the following midterm election. With a negative 12% swing from President Biden to former Governor McAuliffe in this election, the historical math tells us 2022 has the potential to mean Republicans will beat Democrats in house races by a larger margin nationally than in 2010’s wave election year.
“If you’re a Democrat and President Biden won your seat by 16 points, you’re in a competitive race next year,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said on the heels of Tuesday’s results.