Millions head to the polls Tuesday to vote in Congressional elections in Ohio and gubernatorial elections in New Jersey and Virginia. Experts have said this election will serve as a referendum on President Joe Biden’s agenda and performance.
Ohio voters will pick two Congresspeople in a special election. One of the seats is in Cleveland, filling the now-Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge’s seat. The other is in the Columbus suburbs, where Republican Steve Stivers recently resigned. The margins of victory in those districts can shed light on how 2022 elections might unfold.
In the Cleveland district, moderate Democratic candidate Shontel Brown beat out progressive opponent Nina Turner. In the Columbus area district, Trump-endorsed Mike Carey beat more moderate Republican primary opponent Jeff LaRe.
Moving to New Jersey’s gubernatorial race, polls show that incumbent Democrat Phil Murphy will likely keep his seat. Recent polling indicates a double digit lead over Republican opponent Jack Ciattarelli.
President Biden, for his part, downplayed his low poll numbers while speaking to reporters in Rome.
“By the way, look, the polls are going to go up and down and up down. They were high early, then they got medium, then they went back up, and now they’re low,” Biden said.
However, the main focus will be in Virginia, a historically purple state that has turned blue in recent elections.
“What we’re seeing in this election is that Virginia looked a lot bluer during the Trump years than it’s looking after the Trump presidency,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington.
Recent polling suggests the gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin, are neck and neck heading into Election Day.
“Because so many Virginia voters are more focused on D.C. than Richmond, a lot of the politics in Virginia, particularly in northern Virginia, is very national in scope,” Farnsworth said. “And so you’re seeing, I think, a significant level of frustration among traditionally Democratic voters as well as those voters who might sometimes vote Democratic. They want to see more than they’ve gotten, in other words, from the Biden presidency so far.”
“You’ve really created an environment where Republicans can claim the Democrats can’t govern, and Biden has given them, or the congressional Democrats more precisely, have given them the terms of providing some evidence for that argument,” he added.
Both candidates have been pulling out big names to help them campaign.
”Virginia, you have a lot of responsibility this year. Not only are you choosing your next governor, but you’re also making a statement about what direction we’re headed in as a country,” former President Barack Obama said in a recently released commercial for McAuliffe.
Former President Donald Trump endorsed Youngkin early on in the election, holding a private tele-rally for Youngkin on Election Eve. Youngkin has stayed fairly mum on Trump and didn’t announce his tele-rally on his website or his Twitter page. Youngkin held an in-person rally in Loudoun County on Election Eve, not attending Trump’s tele-rally. Farnsworth believes the ‘Trump Factor’ will have an impact on this election.
“You sound too much like Donald Trump, and then you energize the Democratic base, you lose potential cross-pressured voters in the suburbs who might be Republicans on economic matters, but more Democratic on social matters,“ Farnsworth said. “And if you end up embracing the Trump message too visibly, you run the risk of losing another part of the Republican coalition that you need to win.”
Democrats are trying to capitalize on this. Congressman Gerry Connolly, a progressive from Northern Virginia, told Politico that if Trump wants to hold a rally Connolly will “even loan him my backyard, landscape it and everything.”
Rather than focus on Trump, Youngkin has instead focused on critical race theory and education.
“One of the things that you’ve seen with the Youngkin campaign is an ability to really adjust the narrative,” said Farnsworth. “If you look at polls for a month, six weeks ago, you really don’t see education as a top issue. People were much more worried about the economy. They were much more worried about COVID, the economy, and health care crises relating to the coronavirus. But, if you look at the most recent surveys,you’re seeing that education has really popped as an important issue in the minds of a lot of voters. And I think that really has to do with the very aggressive effort of the Youngkin campaign to make that the issue that they want to run on.”