Democratic gubernatorial candidates and incumbents are likely to have a much tougher time during next year’s midterm elections following a surprise loss in Virginia and a much closer than expected race in New Jersey, thanks in large part to President Biden’s tanking approval ratings.
“Biden’s approval is pulling down Democrats everywhere,” Charles Franklin, the pollster at Marquette Law School, told The Associated Press after releasing a survey this week indicating Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers ‘ approval rating had slid more. “There’s no question national forces are playing a big role.”
Democrats were already steeled for tough races, but the upset loss in Virginia’s governor’s race and a close win in deeply blue New Jersey’s confirmed the difficult conditions ahead. In both places, the party was largely caught off guard by the potency of culture-war debates over schools and struggled to stop voters once turned off by former President Donald Trump from migrating back to Republicans.
Democratic incumbents will be playing defense in much-watched Michigan and Wisconsin, and trying to hold an open seat in Pennsylvania. The three governorships are seen as Democrats’ best chance to slow the GOP’s ascendancy in the Rust Belt. The GOP currently holds the governor’s office in 27 states, compared with Democrats’ 23. Thirty-six are up next year nationwide.
Biden’s approval ratings had been trending downward all summer but really took a hit after the deadly, disastrous pullout from Afghanistan, in which hundreds of Americans were still left behind though the U.S. evacuated tens of thousands of Afghans.
CNN noted in late September:
It’s the rare poll that makes an entire party sit up and take notice. The new Iowa poll is one of those polls.
Just 31% of Iowans approved of how Joe Biden is handling his duties as president while a whopping 62% disapprove. Biden’s disapproval number is below the lowest ever measured by ace pollster J. Ann Selzer for former presidents Donald Trump (35%) and Barack Obama (36%).
“This is a bad poll for Joe Biden, and it’s playing out in everything that he touches right now,” Selzer told the Des Moines Register.
As for Democrat gubernatorial races around the country, Biden’s poor ratings and Democratic agendas and legislative priorities are likely all to blame for losses in Virginia, New York, Texas, and elsewhere around the country.
“Evers and Democratic Govs. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania have emerged as major national figures, credited with stymieing Republican-controlled legislatures’ efforts to add restrictions on voting and to curb precautions during the coronavirus pandemic,” The AP reported. “Democrats see added urgency in holding the three governorships, in part because of their role in presidential elections.
“Flipping Michigan and Wisconsin and winning Pennsylvania — Wolf is term limited and can’t run again — would also likely give Republicans a boost heading into 2024,” the newswire added.
Phil Cox, former executive director for the Republican Governors Association, who is advising GOP gubernatorial candidates for 2022, told The AP: “Having Republican governors in key presidential battlegrounds like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan can be worth a point or two on the presidential ballot. Republican governors can be difference makers in 2024.”
GOP operatives and pollsters believe that Michigan and Wisconsin are entirely within the realm of GOP pickups along with Kansas after current Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly barely won the deep red state in a three-way 2018 race. Some also see other states including Maine, Nevada, and New Mexico in play.
And Republican planners already see a winning formula emerging: Opposition to divisive critical race theory and support for “parental rights” in public schools, two issues that led to Glenn Youngkin’s victory in Virginia last week, analysts believe.
“When you’re talking about governors, you’re talking about people who are actually in charge of what’s going to wind up in our kids’ schools,” Rick Hess, director of education programs for the conservative American Enterprise Institute., told the AP.
“For senators and members of Congress, it’s a little more difficult. But this is such a gut-level, values-driven conversation, it will absolutely still motivate,” he said.