Democrats point fingers after Virginia defeat

Democrats are pointing fingers at one another after the party endured a difficult defeat in the Virginia gubernatorial race and an uncomfortable near-miss in New Jersey. 

For some Democrats, the results brought on a sense of déjà vu, drawing flashbacks to the 2009 governor’s contest in Virginia and the “shellacking” — as former President Obama dubbed it — one year later in the 2010 midterm elections. 

Many expressed frustration at the gridlock on Capitol Hill. Terry McAuliffe, the losing Democrat in Virginia, and his allies had pressed for the House to pass a Senate-approved bipartisan infrastructure bill months ago, believing it would help him.

But that bill was stuck in a standoff between centrists and moderates over the broader Biden agenda.

“Where does the party stand? Chaos — again,” said one top Democratic strategist as votes were still being tallied in the New Jersey race. “The Democratic Party leadership seems to revel in its tone-deafness that consistently ignores voters’ concerns, and whose condescending elitist rhetoric and messaging is setting the party up for a catastrophic outcome in 2022 and 2024.” 

The outcome on Tuesday night was a grim and painful reality check for some Democrats who say the party still hasn’t been energizing the base or speaking to the right voters while properly communicating a solid message to the electorate. A number said President Biden had to share in the blame.

“It’s more of a failure of the party and the way we run campaigns as a whole,” said Democratic strategist Chuck Rocha, who served as a senior adviser on the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “But I would put 70 percent of the blame on Congress and 30 percent on Biden.” 

“Biden has delivered, but Democrats have not done a good job making the case of what we have delivered, and in the case of the Congress, they haven’t delivered a goddamn thing,” Rocha added.  

Earlier this year, Democrats in Congress did pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue plan, which contained money for stimulus checks that were broadly popular among the electorate.

But while the economy has partially rebounded, voters are cranky about rising gas prices, inflation, goods shortages and the enduring pandemic. 

A number of Democrats aligned with the White House argue that the elections should serve as an impetus for the party to stop bickering and quickly pass both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and Biden’s larger social and climate policy measure to prove to voters that they can deliver. 

“We need to be honest about where the president’s numbers are now and the challenges we’re facing heading into the midterms. We need to pass both infrastructure and Build Back Better bills immediately and start selling them,” said Democratic strategist Josh Schwerin. 

“And we need to be visibly working to solve the supply chain and inflation problems just like we continue to do with COVID. Voters think we’re not doing anything with our majority and we need to change that. We also can’t keep losing rural areas 85-15 and hope to win elections. Something needs to change,” he added.  

Some progressives fumed at moderates for holding up negotiations on Biden’s larger spending package. Meanwhile, centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) argued Wednesday that the Republican victories validated his concerns about moving too quickly.

The New York Times reported that the Virginia Democratic Party chairwoman needled Democrats in Washington for not passing legislation to help working families, while a senior Biden adviser pushed back against talking points from the Democratic Governors Association that cited the president’s low popularity.

No one besides the candidates themselves wanted to see resounding Democratic victories in Virginia and New Jersey more than Biden. He even predicted a McAuliffe victory on Monday.

Asked for his reaction to the results, Biden on Wednesday underscored the need to pass his domestic agenda, arguing it would ease the issues facing the public. Biden said he wished his agenda had passed before voters went to the polls Tuesday, but said he wasn’t sure it would have made a difference in the final result in Virginia.

“People want us to get things done,” Biden said. “And that’s why I am continuing to push very hard for the Democratic Party to move along and pass my infrastructure bill and my Build Back Better bill.”

Inside the White House on Wednesday, there was also a sense of frustration. One adviser acknowledged the disappointment.

“We know people are going to be saying that it’s our fault, but that can’t be farther from the truth,” the adviser said.

White House officials believe Tuesday’s results should add to the urgency of passing the Biden agenda.

Biden raised the stakes for the elections just last week during a closed-door meeting with House Democrats.

“We badly need a vote on both of these measures,” Biden said. “I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the House and Senate majorities and my presidency will be determined by what happens in the next week.”

Matt Bennett, executive vice president for public affairs at centrist Democratic think tank Third Way, said the results in both Virginia and New Jersey should serve as a “significant wake-up call” to Democrats to pass Biden’s agenda and effectively communicate how it helps middle-class Americans.

“People are just angry and unhappy and they take it out on the party in power, and that’s what they did,” Bennett said. “If we can’t address that, then we’re going to be in serious trouble in the midterms.” 

Tags Barack Obama Bernie Sanders Build Back Better Infrastructure Joe Biden Joe Manchin Virginia
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