State ElectionsLast week, the Republican electoral sweep in Virginia and surprising gains in New Jersey rocked the political landscape and sent Democratic strategists into a panic.

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The election last week provided the first real test for President Biden and Democrats, and it ultimately showed the path forward looks far more promising for Republicans than expected. Republicans swept down-ballot elections in Virginia, retaking the Governors mansion for the first time since 2014, and flipping the Virginia House of Delegates into Republican control. While Democratic New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy won re-election, it was with closer than predicted margins.

Other takeaways from last week's elections include:

REPUBLICAN SWEEP IN VIRGINIA 

Republican Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin’s narrow defeat of former Gov. Terry McAuliffe surprised many, especially since former Gov. McAuliffe held a comfortable lead in all the polling during the summer. Governor-elect Youngkin chipped away at former Gov. McAuliffe’s lead all fall, focusing on local issues, such as education, to motivate Republicans and Independents. While Virginia’s flip to Republican control is not without precedent, it still shocked many. 

Virginia had turned from a purple state to solidly blue over the previous few election cycles. President Biden carried the state by 10 points in 2020 and Governor Northam (D) won the last gubernatorial election by 9 points. The Republican sweep in Virginia might be written off as an odd-year election anomaly. Political commentators pointed to President Biden’s sagging poll numbers as a driver for the tightening polls leading up to Election Day. However, that conclusion would completely ignore what happened in New Jersey on Tuesday. 

NEW JERSEY: SURPASSING EXPECTATIONS 

Incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy was expected to coast toward re-election, averaging a 7-point polling lead ahead of Republican Jack Ciattarelli. Political pundits rated the race as Solid Democratic, the national media largely ignored the race, focusing far more attention on Virginia. But, the morning after Election Day, the race was still too close to call in a state President Biden carried by 19 points. 

While Governor Murphy ultimately won his bid for re-election, Republicans made shocking headway in down ticket races in New Jersey. While Democrats still maintained their majorities in the state legislatures, Republicans narrowed those majorities. Perhaps most notable, New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeny (D), the second most powerful person in New Jersey, lost his bid for reelection to newcomer Edward Durr (R), who had only spent $153 on his bid, as of 11 days before the election. 

PREDICTION OF A REPUBLICAN WAVE? 

Republican victories in New Jersey and Virginia could be early indications of a future wave. Similar indicators existed in 2009, where Republicans went on to gain 63 seats in the 2010 Congressional midterm elections. Republicans have also continued to dominate state legislative chambers, even bucking national trends in 2020 to flip both chambers in New Hampshire, in a year they expected to play defense.  

With Election Day 2022 less than a year away, all signs point toward Republican victories up and down the ballot. However, the recent passage of President Biden’s signature infrastructure bill, could change the narrative, giving Democrats something tangible to run on. Republicans, it should be noted, hold more governorships, state legislatures, and trifectas than Democrats, potentially hampering any additional Republican gains. Republicans certainly have history on their side toward recapturing the House, but Democrats are working hard to prove why they should maintain control of the House in the next election. 

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