‘An earthquake’: GOP rides high after Democrats’ Tuesday shellacking

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) addresses reporters after the weekly policy luncheon on Tuesday, November 2, 2021.
Greg Nash

Republicans are jubilant, brimming with confidence about what Glenn Youngkin’s gubernatorial win in Virginia means for their 2022 hopes to take back control of Congress.

Less than a year after finding themselves locked out of the White House and banished to the minority in both chambers of Congress, GOP lawmakers are feeling bullish about their chances next year with the House and Senate both up for grabs.

Republicans acknowledge that the political environment could shift between now and the home stretch of the midterm election, when most voters will start tuning in. But they contend the results in Virginia and the closer-than-expected results in New Jersey’s gubernatorial contest underscore that the pendulum is swinging back in their direction. 

“I think this is an earthquake,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). 

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a close ally of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), described himself as “elated.” 

“The Biden administration and Democrats have certainly given us a lot of issues to run on, and I guess the question is going to be can we recruit and nominate quality candidates that can take advantage of that,” Cornyn said.

The optimism on the right comes as the setbacks in Virginia quickly set off sirens among Democrats, who worry that it could foreshadow a rough 2022 midterm unless the party course corrects and sharpens their messaging. 

“As one who is running for reelection in 2022, I need results that I can show the American people that Congress can deliver,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

The first midterm is typically rough for the party that controls the White House, and the setback Tuesday night immediately drew comparisons to 2009, when Republicans won the Virginia governor’s race under former President Obama. 

GOP leaders believe they could see a wave in 2022 even larger than the 2010 surge that handed the House to Republicans and marked the rise of the Tea Party. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) lost 63 seats that year and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — who has his eye on the Speaker’s gavel — said the GOP might surpass that mark next year. 

“It’ll be more than 70 [Democratic seats] that will be competitive. There’s many that are going to lose their races based upon walking off a cliff from Nancy Pelosi pushing them,” he told reporters. 

During an interview with Fox News, McConnell on Wednesday said the off-year elections in New Jersey and Virginia are frequently “a precursor of what happens in the next year.” 

“That’s what happened in 2009, the first year of the Obama administration and the second year of the Obama administration they got crushed. That is likely to happen again a year from now,” he added. 

Republicans are so upbeat in part because of President Biden’s margin of victory in Virginia last year. The president carried the state by approximately 10 percentage points and carried New Jersey by nearly 16 points. 

A GOP strategist working on Senate races who spoke on background noted there are several states where Senate Democrats are up for reelection next year where Biden had a narrower margin of victory than he did in Virginia. That includes Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and New Hampshire, where Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) are on the ballot. The source pointed to Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which are currently Republican-held Senate seats up for reelection, Biden narrowly carried both states in 2020. 

The strategist also noted they are “further afield” but that “may warrant adjusting … expectations” given Tuesday night’s results, including states like Colorado where Sen. Michael Bennet (D) is running and Illinois where Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D) is also facing reelection. Biden carried those states in 2020 by 13.5 and 16.9 percentage points, respectively. 

McConnell added that “the wind is going to be at our backs” in 2022 and that the majority runs through states including North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Arizona.

“All of those states are getting redder every day,” he said.

McCarthy, speaking to reporters, sent his own warning shot saying that any House Democrats in districts Biden won by 16 percentage points are now in competitive races heading into 2022. 

“You are no longer safe,” he said. 

To win back the House, Republicans would only need to pick up a net of five seats, while they need a net pick up of one seat to win back the Senate. 

But a handful of GOP senators including Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Ron Johnson (Wis.) and John Thune (S.D.) haven’t said yet if they will seek another term. Johnson and Thune, McConnell’s No. 2, both characterized Youngkin’s victory as a positive sign for Republicans. 

“I think it’s a really good environment and I think the Democrats have just overreached,” Thune said. 

“I think that what it demonstrated was that a positive message that’s focused on issues that people care about in their daily lives is more powerful than making it about any one person,” he added. 

Yet, Republicans are also facing bloody primary fights where support for former President Trump has been a key factor. That’s a shift from Youngkin, who effectively kept Trump at a distance.

It’s a strategy that is in line with McConnell, who has signaled that he wants the upcoming election to be a referendum on Biden and not a rehash of the 2020 election. McConnell called Youngkin’s strategy a “good model.” 

“He thanked President Trump for his support, but moved on to make the election about Glenn Youngkin and his plans for Virginia and the issues that divided the two parties,” he said. 

“Republicans are happy to have President Trump’s support, but in the end we’re gonna be running our own people and our own positions and focusing on the 2022 election,” he added.

Cornyn speculated that Trump would be a “factor,” but “not the dominant factor” in 2022. 

“Obviously he’s already endorsed people like Herschel Walker,” Cornyn said, referring to the top GOP candidate in Georgia. “[But] we certainly have a whole lot of issues to run on.”

Tags Barack Obama Catherine Cortez Masto Donald Trump Glenn Youngkin Joe Biden John Cornyn John Thune Josh Hawley Kevin McCarthy Lisa Murkowski Maggie Hassan Mark Kelly Michael Bennet Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Raphael Warnock Ron Johnson Tammy Duckworth

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