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Democrats get caught in backlash of a negative national environment

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Democratic nominee for Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe looks on as he addresses supporters during an election night event in McLean on Nov. 2, 2021.
Democratic nominee for Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe looks on as he addresses supporters during an election night event in McLean on Nov. 2, 2021.Leah Millis / Reuters

WASHINGTON — So just how blue was Virginia? Not blue enough to stop the GOP from winning the races for governor, lieutenant governor and leading right now for attorney general.

How blue was New Jersey? Maybe just blue enough, where Democratic incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy barely leads by about 1,000 votes at publication time (and where the outstanding vote looks good for him).

Add it all up, and what we got was double-digit movement away from Democrats and towards the Republican Party — all just nine months into the Biden presidency.


2017 Governor: D+9.

2020 President: D+10.

2021 Governor (so far): R+2.

New Jersey

2017 Governor: D+14.

2020 President: D+16.

2021 Governor (so far): Tied – but where you’d rather be Murphy with the outstanding vote.

Regarding Virginia, Democrats can point the finger at strategy, tactics or ideology, but the combined movement last night tells a simple story: The political environment was everything.

Last weekend’s NBC News national poll showed Biden’s job rating at 42 percent, as well as 71 percent of Americans saying country is on the wrong track.

Last night’s exit poll in Virginia had Biden’s job rating in the state at 45 percent — when he got 54 percent of the vote a year ago.

It’s an inverse of what we saw play out in Donald Trump’s first year as president in 2017, when the movement was in the Democrats’ direction.

And it’s an ominous sign for Democrats heading into next year’s midterm elections, where the playing field isn’t Virginia or New Jersey — but instead Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Our question this morning: How does Biden respond to this movement in Virginia and New Jersey, especially after a rough August, a rough September and a rough October for his presidency?

Asked in Scotland yesterday if a loss in Virginia would be a rebuke to his presidency, Biden responded first: “We’re going to win.” And then he added: “I don’t believe — and I’ve not seen any evidence that whether or not I am doing well or poorly, whether or not I’ve got my agenda passed or not is going to have any real impact on winning or losing.”

Well, Democrats didn’t win in Virginia. His approval rating in the state was just 45 percent.

And Democrats are holding their breath in New Jersey.

Youngkin supercharged his base. McAuliffe didn’t

In Virginia, two trends caught our eye last night: Republican Glenn Youngkin excelled in rural parts of the state, while Democrat Terry McAuliffe failed to turn out voters in some areas with high portions of Black residents.

Youngkin blew the doors off of McAuliffe in many rural, deep-red counties, and he ended up getting close to former President Donald Trump’s performance in 2016, a race that saw far higher turnout. The Republican gubernatorial nominee banked more than 17,300 voters in Washington County (Trump won 19,320 votes there in 2016); he won more than 11,600 votes in Louisa County (Trump won 10,528 votes there in 2016); and he won 12,500 in Gloucester County (Trump won 13,096 votes there in 2016).

That’s presidential-level turnout, or close to it, in many of those rural counties.

And then there are majority-Black areas — like Greenville County, or the cities of Hampton and Portsmouth — where McAuliffe couldn’t expand the margins he needed.

McAuliffe won Greensville County with 53 percent of the vote. But President Biden won 57 percent of that vote in 2020, the same margin as future-Gov. Ralph Northam did in 2017.

In Portsmouth, McAuliffe got 65 percent of the vote — lower than Biden’s 69 percent and Northam’s 70 percent.

And in Hampton, McAullife’s 66 percent compares to Biden’s 70 percent and Northam’s 72 percent.

The bottom line: Youngkin was able to supercharge his base, and give him credit for being able to do so.

McAuliffe wasn’t.

By the way, look at the composition of the Virginia electorate last night compared with 2017, per the exit poll:

  • White voters: 74 percent (was 67 percent in 2017)
  • Black voters: 16 percent (was 20 percent in 2017)
  • 18-29 voters: 10 percent (was 14 percent in 2017)

Tweet of the day

Progressives didn’t have a good night in Buffalo and Minneapolis

Outside of Virginia and New Jersey, one other storyline emerged from yesterday’s results: Progressives didn’t have a good night, especially in Buffalo and Minneapolis.

In Buffalo’s mayoral race, Democratic Socialists of America-backed India Walton — who surprisingly won the Democratic nomination — lost to incumbent Mayor Byron Brown, who waged a write-in campaign to victory.

In Minneapolis, a ballot measure to overhaul the city’s policing was easily defeated.

Maybe the best news for progressives was Michelle Wu’s mayoral victory in Boston.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

8: The number of counties (or cities that report their results separately) in Virginia that Democrats won in 2017, but that Youngkin is leading in now.

3: The number of ballot proposals in New York state changing the state’s election laws that are poised to be defeated despite an endorsement from the state Democratic Party.

46,176,844: The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 67,466 more since yesterday morning.)

751,830: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 1,289 more since yesterday morning.)

423,942,794: The number of total vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC. (That’s 937,410 more since yesterday morning.)

19,783,921: The number of booster vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC. (That’s 605,183 more since yesterday morning.)

58.1 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

69.7 percent: The share of all Americans 18-years and older who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

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ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

It was a big night for key candidates of color across the country, including Boston’s Michelle Wu, Virginia’s Winsome Sears, Cincinnati’s Aftab Pureval and Cleveland’s Justin Bibb.

Minneapolis residents rejected a proposal to replace police department with a Department of Public Safety.

Opponents of the Southlake, Texas diversity plan won a majority of the school board there Tuesday.

The CDC Director formally endorsed offering Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine to children between the ages of 5 and 11.

It looks like Florida’s special Democratic congressional primary is going to a recount.

Democrats appear to have reached an agreement on lowering prescription drug costs, but other big disagreements still remain.