Midterm Election Issues

    The 2022 midterm elections are still, in political terms, a long way away. The president’s approval ratings still reflect some of the honeymoon effect, declining gradually in the RealClearPolitics national poll average: +20 on January 30, +15 on April 7, +13 on June 10, +9 at this writing. He will be weeks from his 80th birthday by the time Election Day 2022 rolls around. Senate and governor’s races are still a long way from holding primaries or even announcing new candidates and incumbent retirements. House-district maps have not been drawn yet. Congress has yet to pass a budget or determine the final fate of much of Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The Supreme Court has not even received briefs in a case that could strike down Roe v. Wade by next July 4. A year and a half is a long time in which to have another international crisis, another domestic disaster or mass-protest movement, or any number of other things that could scramble the political playing board in unpredictable directions.

    All that being said, there are elections in 2021, too, and they may have a thing or two to tell us about what is coming ahead. One of those is New York City’s mayoral election, which held its primaries yesterday. Thanks to the city’s decision to gum up the works of its already-glacial vote-counting system by adding ranked-choice voting, we may not know the final outcome for weeks, but as Kyle Smith has detailed, the clear leader in first-choice votes is Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams. Adams was the overwhelming first choice of most of the working-class and poor black and Hispanic areas of the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens as well as much of Staten Island. Andrew Yang, meanwhile, swept the Asian neighborhoods, former MSNBC commentator Maya Wiley won the more gentrified parts of Brooklyn and upper Manhattan, and Kathryn Garcia (endorsed by the New York Times) won the established upscale parts of the city, largely in Manhattan. The Republican nomination was claimed by Curtis Sliwa, the talk-radio host who rose to fame in the 1980s as head of the amateur crime-fighting group the Guardian Angels.

    While the Democratic candidates did not all fit in neat ideological boxes, there was a clear divide in how they were perceived. Adams, a black ex-cop who blasted “Defund the Police,” and Yang, a glib businessman, both rejected many of the pieties of online progressives, while Wiley and Garcia courted them. There is a constituency for the latter, but it is not black and Hispanic working people, notwithstanding the ethnic and racial heritage of Wiley and Garcia. It surprises nobody that the city’s Republicans flocked to the banner of Sliwa, a man who has walked the streets to personally fight crime. We should take notice, however, that the voters in a Democratic primary dominated by outer-borough nonwhite voters also turned to a man who has walked the beat. There could hardly be a clearer warning that even core Democratic constituencies are worried about rising crime rates and alienated by knee-jerk anti-cop rhetoric.

    The other high-profile election of 2021, also in what is now seen as safe blue territory, is the race for Virginia governor. Republican Glenn Youngkin has thus far mainly stressed his outsider credentials, but there is another issue bursting into view that could prove a real test case for 2022: critical race theory in schools. Ground zero of that debate has been the ultra-woke school board of Loudoun County, Va. — last seen leading the charge to cancel Dr. Seuss books — where a raucous meeting on the subject was shut down by the police last night. The critical race theory battle is about school curricula, but it is also a convenient outlet for the suppressed frustrations of many parents with how their local schools have handled the pandemic.

    Loudoun County is demographically more like Garcia country than Adams country, although it is far from urban. It has the highest median income of any county in the country and occupies the geographic midpoint between Washington, D.C., and West Virginia. As of 2019, the census estimated that the county is 67 percent white, 20 percent Asian, 14 percent Hispanic, and 8 percent black. It forms the core of Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, which was won by the Democrats in 2018 after being held by Republicans Barbara Comstock and, before her, Frank Wolf since 1980. The district as a whole was competitive for Republicans not long ago — Mitt Romney in 2012, Ken Cuccinelli in 2013, and Ed Gillespie in 2014 all carried it — but Loudoun has been pulling the district to the left. Joe Biden won Loudoun 61.5 percent to 36.5 percent in 2020; Hillary Clinton won it 55.1 percent to 38.2 percent in 2016; Obama beat Romney 51.5 percent to 47 percent in 2012; it last went Republican when George W. Bush won it 55.7 percent to 43.6 percent in 2004. The hard tilt away from the Trump-era GOP is even more pronounced in governor’s races: Bob McDonnell won Loudoun 61 percent to 38.8 percent in 2009. Terry McAuliffe, who is running as the Democratic nominee again this year, beat Cuccinelli 49.6 percent to 45.2 percent in 2013. Ralph Northam in 2017, however, blew out Gillespie in Loudoun, 59.4 percent to 39.5 percent.

    Loudoun has, in short, been a key bellwether of Virginia’s blue turn over the past decade and a half. It is too soon to tell whether the critical race theory uproar is actually going to move the needle in Loudoun, or just represents the county’s diminished population of Republicans. But if there is a path for Youngkin to pull off an upset win that would resonate in 2022, that path starts with giving the voters of places such as Loudoun County a choice, and critical race theory could be the spark that lights the blaze. Democrats should heed the warning: Woke in the schools and woke on the streets could mean broke at the polls.

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