Tuesday was a very good night for the Republicans, who won one governor's mansion in a blue state and might still pick up another. The GOP's clearest win of the night came in Virginia, where Glenn Youngkin beat out Democrat and former governor Terry McAuliffe in a nail-biter of a race.
Youngkin managed to capture just over 50 percent of the vote in a state that hasn't elected a Republican governor since 2009 and which went for Joe Biden in 2020 by 10 points. Republican former state legislator and Marine Corps veteran Winsome Sears also won her race for the open lieutenant governor's seat, becoming the first woman and the first black woman to win that office. Republican Jason Miyares also managed to defeat sitting Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring.
Meanwhile, the governor's race in deep-blue New Jersey—where Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy is running for reelection against Republican former state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli—remains too close to call. This is despite predictions that Murphy would win easily.
The Virginia results are even more startling when one looks at the partisan swing in individual counties.
Virginia county-level data from the state so far has counties that voted for Trump last year shifting 14 points to the right in the aggregate — and counties that voted for Biden shifting 18 points to the right.
— Philip Bump (@pbump) November 3, 2021
McAuliffe by 11 in Loudoun, with 99% in. Biden won it by 25. pic.twitter.com/ggw7jerzmg
— Dan McLaughlin (@baseballcrank) November 3, 2021
Republicans' victory comes after a contentious campaign where battles over education, and particularly whether to open schools and how much control parents should have over schools' curriculum, featured prominently.
Fox exit poll shows that economy, covid pandemic, and education were the issues driving voters in the #VAgov race. "Racism," which McAuliffe vaguely tried to make his topline message in the last week of the race, at 5%. pic.twitter.com/IYroYtfLtE
— Zaid Jilani (@ZaidJilani) November 3, 2021
Youngkin, a businessman and political neophyte, campaigned on opening Virginia's schools and giving parents more say over the kinds of books and materials their children were assigned. He also supported a ban on state-sponsored "critical race theory" curriculum.
McAuliffe, in contrast, ran on the riskier message of telling parents to butt out of their children's education. In a fatal debate gaffe in September, the Democratic candidate said bluntly "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach."
When that message strangely flopped, McAuliffe spent much of the campaign embarrassingly trying to clarify his statement while doing everything he could to tar Youngkin as a racist acolyte of Donald Trump.
He called Youngkin's messaging on schools a "racist dog whistle" and even went so far as to claim that Trump was holding a rally with him in the state, when in fact he wasn't. The pro-McAuliffe, anti-Trump, anti-Republican Lincoln Project went even further, sending actors dressed up as tiki-torch wielding white nationalists to stand in front of a Youngkin campaign bus.
None of those attacks seemed to stick, in part because Youngkin did his best to avoid Trump and some of his signature issues during the campaign. The Washington Times reports that the governor-elect ran zero ads about illegal immigration. (That compares to 2017 when Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie tried to tar then-candidate Ralph Northam as an MS-13 supporter.)
Youngkin ditched the nativist and anti-Hispanic talking points favored by nativists. The GOP is moving beyond its nativist temper-tantrum.
— The Alex Nowrasteh (@AlexNowrasteh) November 3, 2021
Reason's Matt Welch notes that those attacks on Youngkin as a not-so-closeted white nationalist also carried the electorally unhelpful implication that parents' own concerns about their children's education were also fundamentally racist.
"If you tell parents that attempting to exert influence on their kids' school policies is just some kind of 'Let's Go Brandon' wink-nudge for hating on the dark-skinned, those parents will rightly tell you to go fuck yourself. Such choices do not successful political strategies make," writes Welch.
Youngkin's win has pundits predictably prognosticating on whether it's a model for a successful post-Trump Republican party.
You can bet every Republican in the country is going to run on education in 2022 because of what happened in Virginia tonight. (Even if in reality education was just part of the picture and "education" is an umbrella for a hundred different sub-issues.) pic.twitter.com/S11lYm0AXW
— Kristen Soltis Anderson (@KSoltisAnderson) November 3, 2021
Journalist Zaid Jilani argues Youngkin was successful because he merged a broadly popular conservative message on education with more populist policies like raising teacher salaries and eliminating grocery taxes.
National Review writer Michael Brendan Dougherty framed Republican successes last night as a victory over Democratic excesses on both the culture war and COVID-19.
The take: 1) Republican culture war politics work way better when they are a defense of "normal people versus ideologues," they don't work as "Let's make America more Evangelical." 2) Covid connects the economy and education painpoints. Dems need to find a way out.
— Michael Brendan Dougherty (@michaelbd) November 3, 2021
The real reason for Youngkin's victory, of course, is that McAuliffe failed to endorse state-level repeals of zoning restrictions.
I guess I should do a Pundit's Fallacy tweet and say T-Mac would've won if he'd run on a statewide zoning preemption plan.
— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) November 3, 2021
An election night that was broadly good for conservatives also saw voters endorse some radical, left-wing solutions to high housing costs. Minnesotan voters in both Minneapolis and St. Paul approved rent control ballot initiatives.
The Minneapolis initiative, as mentioned in yesterday's Roundup, is the more modest of the two. It amends the city's charter to allow the Minneapolis city council to pass their own, as-of-yet unwritten rent control ordinance or to refer a rent control policy to voters in a subsequent referendum.
Over in St. Paul, voters approved something much more far-reaching. The ballot initiative there places a 3 percent cap on rent increases citywide. The St. Paul initiative, which was written by a coalition of left-wing activist groups, also does not include typical exemptions from rental price caps for new construction and newly vacant apartments.
There's been a recent effort to rebrand and retool rent control as an "anti-rent gouging" or "rent stabilization" policy that can prevent unfair rent hikes while not suppressing the construction of new housing. In places like Oregon and California, state legislators say they've managed to achieve this balance with rent control laws that respectively limit rent increases to 7 and 5 percent plus inflation, exempt new construction for 15 years, and generally allow landlords to raise rents as high they want on vacant apartments.
St. Paul's initiative makes none of those allowances and will likely prove disastrous for rental housing supply as a result. Minneapolis, meanwhile, risks undoing all the good work they've done trying to increase housing supply by repealing burdensome zoning regulations.
- Minneapolis voters also roundly rejected a ballot initiative that would have eliminated the city's police department in favor of a Department of Public Safety.
- Former New York City police officer and state senator Eric Adams, a Democrat, easily won the city's mayoral election against Republican gadfly and Guardian Angel founder Curtis Sliwa.
- New York voters also rejected statewide referenda that would have allowed the legislature to pass bills permitting same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee ballots.
- Byron Brown, incumbent mayor of Buffalo, New York, appears to have won as a write-in candidate against socialist Democratic primary winner India Walton.
With 88% of the vote in, write in votes are well surpassing @Indiawaltonbflo tally in the closely watched Buffalo mayor's race.@MayorByronBrown is running a write-in campaign after losing the primary, and this is a positive sign for him pic.twitter.com/BQl0hOb5MP
— Joseph Spector (@JoeSpectorNY) November 3, 2021
- City councilor Michelle Wu was elected the next mayor of Boston.
- Dark horse candidate (and Republican) Edward Durr might have unseated New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney.
This is the political Cinderella story of the year. A conservative truck driver may just take down the 2nd most powerful Democrat in NJ. He spent $153 bucks. And he's a hell of a nice guy to boot. https://t.co/OkpPpHuEs8
— Rich Zeoli ???????? (@Richzeoli) November 3, 2021