AMAC Exclusive – By Daniel Roman
While Republicans were pleased by the success of state-level candidates in Virginia and New Jersey in last week’s elections, a more in depth look at where the GOP won should not just worry but terrify Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats, who are trying to avoid a wipe out in the 2022 mid-term elections for the the House of Representatives.
Democrats currently hold 17 of the 23 total U.S. House of Representatives seats from both states, and in 2018/2020, Democratic candidates either won or came close to winning three more. Yet on Tuesday, November 2nd, Glenn Youngkin and Jack Ciattarelli carried 12 of them, six in each state, and came close in two more. That means six Democratic Congressmen sit in seats in which the voters chose Republicans last week, several by lopsided margins.
The exposure of Democrats is particularly dramatic in Virginia, where Democrats currently hold a 7-4 lead in the state congressional delegation, but where Republicans enjoyed an 8-3 lead as recently as 2014. While Youngkin did not quite turn back time to 2012, he made extensive progress. Youngkin carried six of Virginia’s eleven congressional districts, and came within 3% of winning a seventh, the 10th, which is anchored on Loudoun County. That district had voted 57%-42% for Joe Biden in 2020. While Democratic incumbent Jennifer Wexton remains strongly favored for reelection in 2022, the seat was held by Republicans Barbara Comstock and Frank Wolf for decades prior to Wexton’s win in the 2018 election.
Even if Wexton can breathe a sigh of relief, her counterparts in Virginia’s 2nd and seventh districts, Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger, are likely reacting with terror. Glenn Youngkin carried Luria’s district by 8.5%, and Spanberger’s by a landslide 13%. Spanberger only won by 2% in 2020 as it was. Without even factoring in redistricting, which may weaken one or both Democrats, Spanberger’s reelection prospects appear dim – which may explain why she has been so outspoken in warning of the dangerous direction she feels her party is headed, telling CNN after the election that Joe Biden “fundamentally misunderstood his mandate.”
If Virginia Democrats have reason to fear that 2022 may see their seven-member delegation reduced to five or even four, New Jersey Democrats . While Phil Murphy appears to have prevailed in the Governor’s race by just under 3%, the close margin defied polls and saw the powerful Senate President, Stephen Sweeney, lose to a truck driver who spent virtually nothing on his campaign. When it came to the state’s 12 congressional districts (which I was unable to find complete results due to the slow speed of New Jersey’s election administration) the two candidates appear to have split them evenly 6-6. This happens to be the exact split prior to the 2016 election. In 2018, however, the Democrats picked up five seats, on top of the one they gained in 2016, assembling an 11-1 majority. The party’s leftward turn saw Jeff Van Drew defect to the GOP and hold his seat in 2020. Along with all other incumbents winning, the division stands at 10 Democrats to 2 Republicans. For those Democrats, 4 of whom won with less than 54% of the vote, the results in 2021 can’t come as a reassurance.
As with Virginia, redistricting adds a wrinkle to the process. But it is unclear what the Democrats can do. They already hold 10 out of 12 seats, and with at least four vulnerable, the question is increasingly seen as whether they will concede one or two seats in order to protect the rest. Few Democratic incumbents in either Virginia or New Jersey will be comfortable with districts that only voted for Biden by a few percentage points and then turned around and voted for a Republican in 2021.
In the meantime, it seems likely that endangered Democrats like Spanberger will look to the fate of Sweeney and take an adversarial line towards not just House “Progressives,” but even Joe Biden. If that is the case, Democrats may need to look past Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema when it comes to the math for their “reconciliation” spending wish list of a bill. With a mere six-vote majority in the House, they will need individuals like Spanberger to commit political suicide to pass it.
If that is the case, then the legislative window on the Biden Presidency may have closed with the elections in Virginia and New Jersey. Even if it is “only” six Democratic-held seats which the GOP carried this year (in just two states), that is the exact margin of Democratic House control. And without that, the Biden legislative agenda may already be lost.
Daniel Roman is the pen name of a frequent commentator and lecturer on foreign policy and political affairs, both nationally and internationally. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics.
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