On Wednesday, Republican Glenn Youngkin won the governorship of Virginia, and another Republican was on the verge of doing so in New Jersey, signaling that President Joe Biden's Democrats are in trouble heading into next year's congressional elections.
CNN and NBC predicted that Youngkin, who surged in the polls in the campaign's final weeks, would defeat former Governor Terry McAuliffe.
Youngkin, a former private equity executive who has never run for office, positioned himself as a political outsider in an attempt to rally suburban voters around hot-button issues such as how to handle racism in schools and COVID-19 mask mandates.
Meanwhile, with about 80% of the vote counted, Republican Jack Ciattarelli held a slim lead over incumbent Democrat Phil Murphy in the New Jersey governor's race. However, some Democratic strongholds were still counting ballots.
The results in two states where Biden comfortably defeated Donald Trump last year are a bad sign for Democrats moving into the 2022 midterm elections, which will determine control of Congress and, with it, the future of Biden's policy program.
Despite McAuliffe's attempts to link Youngkin to the former president, polls revealed that Youngkin closed the deficit with McAuliffe by appealing to independent voters. This group was alienated by Trump's firebrand style of politics in 2020 but was drawn to Youngkin's pleasant attitude.
"Comparing him to President Trump really didn't resonate with me," Jacob McMinn, a program manager for a defense contractor, said after voting for the Republican candidate in Fairfax, Virginia, just outside of Washington.
Meanwhile, Trump attempted to take credit for Youngkin's triumph.
"I'd like to express my gratitude to my BASE for voting for Glenn Youngkin in such large numbers. He would not have come close to winning without you," he stated in one of three statements regarding the race released on Tuesday.
Youngkin will succeed Democrat Governor Ralph Northam, who is stepping down. Governors of Virginia are not allowed to serve consecutive terms. From 2014 through 2018, McAuliffe, 64, was governor of Virginia.
In Virginia, Republicans were leading in the races for lieutenant governor and state attorney general, and Republicans appeared to have flipped five seats in the state House of Delegates, resulting in a 50-50 tie. The state Senate, which Democrats control, did not hold elections this year.
The debate between Youngkin and McAuliffe centered on the culture wars in the United States.
Youngkin called himself a supporter of parents who want a say in school curriculums, a message tailored to suburban voters who value education.
He took issue with the Republican Party's anger over the concept of structural racism in schools. He promised to prohibit the teaching of "critical race theory," a legal framework that explores how racism impacts American laws and policies, even though the subject is not taught in Virginia schools.
Youngkin's platform also included public safety, election integrity, and independence from COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates, which Republicans believe will drive voter turnout in 2022.
Youngkin received fire from Democrats when he first refused to condemn Trump's allegations that the 2020 election was "stolen" from him; bogus accusations enraged Trump followers and resulted in a mob of Trump supporters invading the US Capitol on Jan. 6.
Youngkin later stated that Biden had won legally but then demanded an examination of Virginia's voting equipment, prompting Democrats to accuse him of endorsing Trump's election conspiracy theories.
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