Update (1835ET): The GOP upset in New Jersey has finally been called: New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has reportedly clinched his second term as governor of the Garden State after defeating former GOP state state Assembleyman Jack Ciattarelli in a gubernatorial race that was unexpectedly close.
The race was finally called Wednesday evening, with Murphy beating back Ciattarelli in a race that was supposed to be an easy re-election victory for the Democrat, but turned into an unexpected nail-biter.
According to the Hill, polls had slightly narrowed in the final few weeks of the campaign (although RCP's average poll still had Murphy up by a significant margin heading into election day). Ciattarelli performed far better than expectations, holding a slight lead over Murphy for much of Tuesday night before the count ultimately slipped into the Democrats' favor early Wednesday.
Murphy is the first Democratic governor of NJ to win reelection in 4 decades. And the closeness of the race now has Democrats questioning the public mood and popularity of President Biden and his agenda, while Republicans see Murphy's relatively poor performance as a sign that they might be able to make serious gains in Congress during next year's mid-term election.
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Murphy is leading by around 7K votes despite a surge in support for Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli overnight. Votes are still being counted, particularly mail-in ballots in what BBG described as "strongly Democratic counties."
I've seen enough: Gov. Phil Murphy (D) defeats Jack Ciattarelli (R) in the New Jersey governor's race. #NJGOV— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) November 3, 2021
At least one major forecaster - David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report - has made a projection that Murphy will eventually win, but it could be days, or even weeks before the outcome is decided, and there's a chance that whoever ends up on the losing end might request a recount, given that the race has come down to thousands of votes out of more than 2MM cast.
BBG explained that the Garden State has typically leaned Democratic, but voters frustrated by the state's high taxes have kept Democratic governors to single terms for more than four decades. The state's most recent GOP governor, Chris Christie, managed to win two terms before he was term-limited out.
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If the off-year election of 2021 truly was a proxy for the public's feelings toward President Biden and the Democrats, then the Dems have officially been warned: their shallow electoral mandate is already collapsing - and the midterms are still a year off. Because the Dems had a worse Tuesday night than the Houston Astros, a sign that voters are pushing back against the party's increasingly leftward drift.
Not only did Republican political newcomer Glenn Youngkin wax former Democratic Gov. (and Clinton pal) Terry McAuliffe in Virginia, but in New Jersey, what was supposed to be an easy re-election victory for Gov. (and former Goldman Sachs employee) Phil Murphy has turned into a political dogfight, with neither Murphy nor his GOP rival Jack Ciattarelli able to claim victory after a long night of ballot-counting. Both spoke to supporters in post-midnight speeches, but the mood of deflation felt by the Democrats was difficult to ignore.
And while the pundits are still clinging to the notion that Murphy will clinch re-election - after all, he had a massive advantage including 1 million more registered voters and far more cash in his campaign coffers than his GOP rival - the race is still neck and neck.
According to NJ.com, as of 5:45ET Wednesday, it's possible the gubernatorial race in the Garden State may not be decided Wednesday. With 98% of the precincts in, Ciattarelli - a former member of the state Assembly - was leading Murphy by about 1,200 votes, according to totals from the Associated Press. That amounted to 49.7% for Ciattarelli and 49.6% for Murphy. To be sure, thousands of votes, many from Dem-leaning counties, remain uncounted.
Meanwhile, the difference in tone between Ciattarelli and Murphy was palpable in their election-night speeches. First, Ciattarelli.
Now Murphy, who clearly feels entitled to re-election after serving as governor through the COVID pandemic, after imposing some of the most unnecessary policies that clearly scared thousands of Democrats into vote absentee, or, perhaps, staying home entirely.
Back in Va. voters celebrated Youngkin's win with "Let's Go Brandon" chants in a generally excitable crowd.
Offering some insight into how Youngkin managed to pull off a victory: unlike Clinton crony McAuliffe, Youngkin actually inspired voters to show up to the polls.
Here is a wild stat. In the 17 counties west of Roanoke (basically, the bottom left tail of the state on a map), Youngkin netted an extra 40k votes compared to Gillespie in 2017. He did it *entirely* through turnout. Dem votes were almost exactly flat, GOP votes up 40%.— George Pearkes (@pearkes) November 3, 2021
Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, the city where George Floyd was killed by officer Derek Chauvin, setting off last summer's wave of riots and "demonstrations", voters in the city rejected a proposal to abolish the city's police department and replace it with a "public safety" department focused on a "comprehensive public health approach". In NYC, the election went largely as expected, with former police officer and moderate Democrat Eric Adams emerging victorious (although many believed the race was decided months ago when Adams clinched victory in the Democratic primary). At any rate, Adams' GOP rival Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels, showed up to vote with one of his 17 cats.
Democrat Eric Adams romps home to victory in the race for New York City Mayor, beating out Republican rival Curtin Sliwa who turned up to vote for himself with one of his 17 cats https://t.co/0b1u5KzFhs pic.twitter.com/FpuvHJN4r2— Showbiz (@showbiznotices) November 3, 2021
Circling back to Virginia for a moment, not only did voters reject McAuliffe and back GOP Youngkin, they also backed Republican Winsome Sears, a black woman and immigrant from Jamaica and former Marine, to be the state's next Lieutenant Governor.
Sears defeated Democrat Hala Ayala, winning just over 51.2% of the vote to Ayala’s 48.8%, according to a local NBC affiliate. While a woman of color was slated to take the lieutenant governor position regardless of who won (a first in Va. history) Sears won the thing, becoming the first black woman to be elected to any statewide office in Virginia, cementing a historic vote.
HUGE UPSET: Republican @WinsomeSears has been elected Virginia's next lieutenant governor!— Republican State Leadership Committee (@RSLC) November 3, 2021
She was outspent 2:1 but overcame all odds and will be the first woman to hold the office in VA!
Congrats, Winsome! pic.twitter.com/Mfb1EYtmgk
Does she look like a 'white supremacist' to you?
So, what's the takeaway from all of this? Well, clearly, voters are uncomfortable with the Democrats' courting of the progressive left, especially when it comes to issues like whether CRT should be taught in schools. Also, as Axios notes, Democrats are about to engage in a serious game of finger-pointing, since even with former President Trump largely silenced thanks to a social media blackout, they still couldn't manage to win a solid victory in an off-year vote. The vote may be a "wake-up call" for the Dems' Congressional leadership to push for swift passage of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, a bipartisan deal passed by the Senate over the summer, but which has been held up by progressives who are demanding that Biden's social agenda (a package that currently stands at about $1.75 trillion) see a vote first, for fear that it might collapse, or see massive cutbacks, without the 'carrot' of the infrastructure bill.
"Clearly, the president's drop in favorability made it very difficult for the Democratic nominee to stay above water," Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly told Axios D.C.'s Cuneyt Dil at McAuliffe's election night event in Tysons Corner, Va.
As a reminder, here's what President Biden's favorability looks like.
Speaing On Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show last night, political analyst Larry Sabato said somebody from "McAuliffe's camp" described the race in Va. a "blood bath" for the Dems.
DELICIOUSO!!!😭🤣🤣🤣 pic.twitter.com/bGz9x3ldza— il Donaldo Trumpo (@PapiTrumpo) November 3, 2021
While they might try to brush it off as an off-year fluke, the Democrats know the implications of Tuesday night's vote. After all, Kamala Harris herself said the following about last night's vote in Virginia: "It is a bellwether for what happens in the rest of the country…what happens in VA will in large part determine what happens in 2022, 2024 & on."
But a Congressional aide put it far more bluntly in an anonymous quote to Axios: "It's time for Democrats to stop f****** around" and "show the voters we actually can govern."
Another senior aide said it's "insanely clear" the party must change its focus "not on center-left or progressive goals," but on "what gets real things done for families."
At this point, President Biden has signed a lot of executive orders, but what has his administration actually accomplished?