If you want to know how brutal the Democratic election defeats were on Tuesday, you should look to New Jersey. There a man named Edward Durr won a seat in the state Senate for the Republicans. Durr, who works as a truck driver for a furniture store, spent about $ 2,300 on his campaign. That meager budget was enough to capture a constituency that the Democrats had held since the early 1970s.
Durr beat his opponent Steve Sweeney, one of New Jersey’s most powerful Democratic politicians, with 52 to 48 percent. That was a dramatic turnaround: In the election four years ago, Sweeney had 59 percent of the vote – 18 points more than his then Republican opponent. In the presidential election in New Jersey in November 2020, Democrat Joe Biden won 57 to 41 percent against Republican Donald Trump – 16 points ahead. And now this: A trucker who filmed his campaign videos on his cell phone humiliates the Democrats.
After all, New Jersey’s Democratic Governor Phil Murphy was re-elected Tuesday with 51 percent of the vote. He escaped the fate of his fellow party member Terry McAuliffe, who lost in Virginia. There the Republican Glenn Youngkin won the governorship. His party also regained a majority in the state’s House of Representatives.
So all in all, it was a dark election day for the Democrats and a very disturbing trend became apparent: wherever Republicans are strong anyway, in the countryside and in the small towns, they got stronger. And where the Democrats had collected the votes for their election victories in recent years, in the cities, but especially in the suburbs, their once comfortable margins of victory have shrunk considerably.
The dilemma is difficult to solve: be progressive or down-to-earth?
With so many elections lost, it’s no wonder the Democrats are now looking for someone to blame. And it is no coincidence that the dispute over who is responsible for the disaster is again being led along the fault line that has divided the Democrats for years: the left wing of the party against the right wing, “progressives” against “centrists”, the young , woken Activists against the party’s older, more moderate establishment.
The first volley came from the left. On the evening of the election, four of the most influential organizations in the left-wing camp published a statement on the result in Virginia. McAuliffe, it said, had led a vague, discouraged “milk toast campaign” and had done nothing to counter the Republicans’ “racist bullshit”. Instead of spreading a “worker-friendly message” and talking about the issues that are important to the people, he only talked about Trump. It is therefore understandable that “certain democratic groups of voters” – that is, young voters, blacks and Latinos – did not vote.
The conservative wing of the Democrats sees it differently. “What went wrong was this stupid one Wokeness“(Awareness of a lack of social justice and discrimination) pimped James Carville, one of the party’s most prominent electoral strategists. Few Democrats defended McAuliffe’s campaign, which in fact had mainly consisted of turning Youngkin into a disguised Trump revenant. But in the central question – what are actually the things that are important to “the people”? – there is obviously great disagreement within the party.
While the left in the party would rather talk about “progressive” issues such as climate protection and general health insurance, but also racism, diversity, gender issues and police violence, the conservative camp calls for more down-to-earthness and closeness to the people. “We don’t dare to say: Sure, the high inflation is a problem, the supply bottlenecks and high gasoline prices are a problem, and we don’t have enough workers,” says the moderate Democratic MP Abigail Spanberger, who is a constituency in the US Chamber of Deputies Virginia represents.
This is a dilemma that is difficult to resolve. On the one hand, young people and blacks are extremely important groups of voters for the Democrats. And many of these voters stayed at home in Virginia on Tuesday: The proportion of African-Americans in the electorate fell from 20 to 16 percent compared to 2017, the proportion of voters under 30 decreased from 14 to 10 percent. Blaming the left wing for their disapproval of McAuliffe, a veteran, thoroughly moderate party insider whose career began under the Clintons, is questionable.
The disgust for Trump does not move the white suburbs this time
On the other hand, the result in Virginia also showed that the Democratic Party is now perceived as so left, so aloof, elitist and obsessed with minority problems that large parts of the white electorate are running away from it. Since perception in elections is often more important than the actual political program and white voters still form the majority, this is an existential problem for the Democrats.
The turning away of the white working class from the Democrats has now reached dramatic proportions. Ungraduate whites – men and women – three-quarters of the vote for Youngkin on Tuesday. But even in the suburbs of northern Virginia, where there are many wealthy, well-educated whites who have voted for the Democrats in disgust for Trump in recent years, McAuliffe fared poorly. As in New Jersey, the decision by local Democratic politicians to close public schools for a good year because of the corona pandemic was an important reason for the voter rebellion.
Youngkin also fueled racist resentment in his election campaign. The fact, however, that a black Republican named Winsome Sears won the election to lieutenant governor in Virginia on Tuesday, taking the second highest office in the state, shows that racism was hardly the driving force behind Youngkin’s victory.
It is more like this: The Democrats are currently suffering from the problem that resulted in election defeats for the Republicans in Trump times – the bottom line is that they scare away more voters than they attract.