Although every eye was on the Virginia gubernatorial election, the real sensation happened in New Jersey. Media outlets have announced that Democrat Phil Murphy will retake his governor’s seat in the Garden State, while Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli’s team claims the race is still too close to call. After the Associated Press initially declared Murphy’s win, Ciatterelli Communications Director Stami Williams tweeted, “With the candidates separated by a fraction of a percent out of 2.4 million ballots cast, it’s irresponsible of the media to make this call when the New Jersey Secretary of State doesn’t even know how many ballots are left to be counted.”
With about 98% of the ballots counted, Murphy holds a slim margin of fewer than 30,000 votes. However, since mainly Democrat-heavy counties are outstanding, he is projected to win.
Whether or not Murphy has successfully regained his seat as New Jersey governor, the conclusion is the same. A deep blue state just turned purple. This may provide a clue that Americans should expect a political earthquake in the 2022 midterm elections.
Due to the influx of people working in Washington, D.C., Virginia turned blue in 2008 on the presidential level. Pundits thought the trend would continue and render the first enduring British colony in the Americas a Democrat stronghold. Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe seemed assured to win a second term as governor. Then came the matter of education.
As school board meetings became primetime viewing, concerned parents were soon labeled “domestic terrorists,” and Attorney General Merrick Garland seemed all-too-happy to run with that particular ball. McAuliffe dismissed the matter and said that parents should not have a say in what the schools teach. That scandal, the economic squeeze of inflation, and the narrowing polls turned the Virginia race into a national spectacle. By the time Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin surprisingly became a contender and eventually declared victory over McAuliffe, the nation’s eyes were set on Old Dominion.
And Then There Was New Jersey…
By contrast, New Jersey was ignored. There were no similar scandals in the Garden State, and the Democrat incumbent governor, Phil Murphy, was reasonably popular – in fact, this anticipated win was set to be a springboard to higher office. New Jersey has been a deep blue state for decades, and in 2020, Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in the state by a 15.8% margin. The Democrats have held the east coast state in every presidential election since 1992. There was nothing to see here, just another solid Democrat victory.
Or so everyone thought. Even days before the election, the polls showed that Murphy would prevail. Whether or not he succeeds in narrowly reclaiming his position as governor, the more important result is that the Republicans gained so much; it indicates New Jersey could now be a state in play. This does not bode well for Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections.
2022 And Beyond
Analysts have noted the party that wins the presidency generally loses steam two years later. It is regarded as a form of enthusiasm fatigue. Now combine this with a further enthusiasm depression due to low presidential approval. The close race in New Jersey – regardless of the eventual outcome – suddenly makes sense.
On closer inspection, similar trends can be found all over America. On the same day as the New Jersey and Virginia elections, the small city of Rochester in New Hampshire voted for a new mayor. The Republican Paul Callaghan won 64% of the votes in a town the Democrats have held since 2005. Although not an important election in a national context, it does provide an extra data point to support a significant political shift. Historical trends and election indicators suggest the Republicans will win back the House and the Senate in 2022. If New Jersey is any indication, it may be a blow-out victory.
~ Read more from Caroline Adana.