THE NAIL BITER — New Jersey’s gubernatorial race is still too close to call as you wake up this morning. With 88% of the expected vote in, incumbent PHIL MURPHY is trailing Republican JACK CIATTARELLI by just over 1,000 votes.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN returned from Europe overnight to a Washington where politics has been completely upended since he left six days ago.
Before he departed, Biden told House Democrats, “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.” He meant inaction on his two legislative priorities, leaving Europe with no congressional backing for his climate proposals, and potential defeats in one or more crucial elections Tuesday that would make everything worse. Biden may have been prescient.
Biden may have mattered more than DONALD TRUMP in GLENN YOUNGKIN’s triumph over TERRY MCAULIFFE. According to exit polls, Biden was about as unpopular as Trump in Virginia. But Biden embraced the race as a referendum on his presidency and campaigned in the state while Trump, to his great annoyance, was persuaded to stay away.
There’s an incentive by the progressive left and the Trumpist right to exaggerate the importance of Trumpism to Youngkin’s win. The left would like to think that Fox News-inflamed culture war issues like critical race theory were a silver bullet. Trump would like us to believe that he is somehow responsible for shifting the state from a 10-point loss last year to a 2-point win Tuesday night.
Youngkin had to overcome Trumpism more than he had to rely on it. He ran a campaign that was a throwback to pre-Trump Republicanism: racial appeals to working-class white voters, combined with technocratic conservatism focused on education, low taxes and government efficiency via TV ads and rallies (having a human answer the phone at the DMV was a big applause line).
The two-track strategy worked. Trump lost the Virginia suburbs 45-53, while Youngkin won the suburbs 53-47.
“We’re finding out that Democrats were renting those voters, not buying them,” JESSE HUNT, spokesman for the RGA, told Playbook as we watched the returns come in at the Youngkin victory party in Chantilly on Tuesday night.
In fact, in rural Virginia and among non-college-educated whites Youngkin racked up even bigger margins than Trump, according to exit polls. Trump won rural Virginia 52-46 last year. Youngkin won it 64-36. Trump won non-college whites 62-38. Youngkin won those voters by a whopping 76-24. Youngkin’s pivot to the center was successful, but his quiet fueling of the Trump base seemed to pay even bigger dividends.
The off-year Virginia gubernatorial election has a nearly perfect record in recent decades of serving as the first voter backlash against the party in power, so in a sense the results were not that surprising. But Youngkin’s victory — after Biden’s 10-point win in the state a year ago, when the prevailing wisdom became that Virginia had moved firmly from swing state to blue state — shows that the backlash was indeed fierce.
Virginia Republicans saw Youngkin’s surge begin in August when America’s messy exit from Afghanistan started to drag down Biden’s approval rating. McAuliffe began the summer distributing literature showing Youngkin and the president. By the fall, Biden had disappeared from the candidate’s mailers in swing areas. On Tuesday, Biden’s approval rating was the lowest of his presidency: 42.8%.
History strongly suggests that the midterms will deliver the next big blow to the incumbent president. But the more immediate danger for Biden is his precarious legislative agenda. Democrats insist that passing the infrastructure bill would have helped McAuliffe. The lack of progress on the bipartisan infrastructure bill (BIF) has been “incredibly damaging,” one Virginia Democrat told POLITICO.
Virginia Republicans were skeptical that Congress could have saved McAuliffe. They insist his rise was propelled by local concerns over education, which became the top issue by the end of the race and which conveniently meant different things to different voters. For some, it was about the state’s Covid-19 restrictions in public schools. For others, it was about the mostly ginned-up CRT issue that dominated Twitter and Fox. It was taking off before McAuliffe’s famous gaffe in the last debate — “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach” — that served as rocket fuel for Youngkin.
How will Hill Democrats respond to the shellacking?
Tuesday’s results weren’t even official before they added something new for Democratic progressives and moderates to feud about.
A congressman from New Jersey speaking for the mods about the results there: “Fucking disaster down ballot and way too close at the top. Not enough excitement at top of NJ ticket — Biden, Covid, etc. No accomplishments. Should have passed infrastructure a month ago.”
A top aide to House progressives on the McAuliffe defeat: “It’s absurd to blame progressives for Virginia. A) This was a culture war election, not about federal issues. B) Terry McAuliffe is a centrist. C) If you want to fault D.C., fault the tiny group of conservative Dems who intentionally blocked childcare, prescription drug reform, universal pre-k, and paid leave all fall.”
Read below for more on the fallout of the Virginia results on Capitol Hill …
Good Wednesday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.
BIDEN’S WEDNESDAY: The president arrived back at the White House at 1:35 a.m.
— 1 p.m.: Biden and VP KAMALA HARRIS will receive the President’s Daily Brief.
The White House Covid-19 response team and public health officials will brief at 1:45 p.m.
The HOUSE will meet at noon.
The SENATE will meet at 10 a.m. to take up ROBERT LUIS SANTOS’ nomination to be director of the census. At 11 a.m., the Senate will vote on the nominations of BENJAMIN HARRIS to be assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy and ISOBEL COLEMAN to be deputy USAID administrator for policy and programming. At 2:15 p.m., the chamber will have a cloture vote on the motion to proceed to the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. At 5:15 p.m., the Senate will vote on JEFFREY PRIETO to be assistant EPA administrator and RAJESH NAYAK to be assistant Labor secretary for policy. The Finance Committee will vote on CHRIS MAGNUS’ nomination to be Customs and Border Protection commissioner at 9:30 a.m. FAA Administrator STEVE DICKSON will testify before the Commerce Committee at 10 a.m.
MORE ON THE VA. GOV RACE
REPUBLICANS SEE YOUNGKIN’S WIN AS A PATH TO SWEEPING CONGRESS. The conservative House Republican Study Committee quickly circulated a memo about lessons the GOP should take from the upset.
Here’s a sampling of what the GOP will say today: “First, the concerns of parents need to be a tier 1 policy issue for Republicans: Youngkin’s success reveals that Republicans can and must become the party of parents. … Second, we need to end the mandates … Youngkin opposes vaccine mandates and mask mandates in public schools …
“Third, we must continue to back the blue. Youngkin pledged to increase funding for police departments and protect ‘Qualified Immunity for our Law Enforcement Heroes,’ which House Democrats tried to end through their police reform bill. Crime, and particularly homicides, have spiked … Fourth, we must continue to focus on the failures of the Biden economy. Youngkin focused on providing relief to runaway inflation caused by the Biden economy and on not locking down the economy again.” Read the full memo here
— A roundup of our election results: Virginia governor … New Jersey governor … Florida’s 20th district … Ohio’s 11th and 15th districts … NYC mayor
THE TAKEAWAYS — “If Tuesday’s elections were the first concrete readings of political conditions since Joe Biden became president, Democrats may be headed straight into a hurricane,” Steve Shepard and David Siders write. The two outline the biggest lessons for Tuesday night’s off-year elections, including suburban and rural voters teaming up to put Youngkin over the top.
VIRGINIA BLOWBACK — The finger-pointing over McAuliffe’s loss has already started on Capitol Hill. Some Democrats are blaming progressives: McAuliffe himself warned Democratic leaders that they needed to pass the BIF to turn out the base — only Speaker NANCY PELOSI couldn’t get the votes to do it due to opposition on the left. And progressives are pinning blame on moderates, arguing that MANCHINEMA’s obstructionism has thwarted a Democratic legislative victory.
McAuliffe’s defeat poses two big question for the party:
1) What lesson do Hill Democrats take away? After the shellacking in 2020, moderate Democrats blamed progressives’ embrace of socialism and “defund the police” for the fact that they almost lost the House. But progressives argued that they bled seats for the opposite reason: because Democrats didn’t lean more fully into left-tilting policies like Medicare for All.
We’ll be watching today for whether Democrats have the same contradictory takeaways, with moderates arguing that their massive agenda is turning off swing voters while progressives say they need to go bolder to excite Democratic voters.
2) How will this affect reconciliation talks? We see two possibilities: A) That the loss in Virginia will light a fire under Democrats, providing the urgency they needed to get Build Back Better over the finish line. That’s what Chris Cadelago, Laura Barrón-López and Natasha Korecki report Democrats are vowing this morning. Or B) It triggers a whole new round of infighting, as progressives push to go bigger and moderates slimmer.
BEFORE TUESDAY NIGHT, Democrats were within striking distance of finishing the reconciliation bill. They clinched a deal with Sen. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-Ariz.) to include drug pricing reforms. The proposal, as our Alice Miranda Ollstein reports, would allow “Medicare Part D to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for the first time since its creation, a move the drug industry has fought for nearly two decades.”
But there are still signs of trouble if Pelosi presses forward in trying to pass both BIF and BBB this week: Five moderate House Democrats are demanding a CBO score that has yet to be released. They want three full days to read the finalized bill. And they’re seeking assurances that the legislative text they vote on will be agreed upon by Senate Democrats, so they’re not forced to take tough votes that don’t ultimately lead to signed legislation.
That could be difficult because senators are still haggling over final provisions surrounding immigration and Medicare as well as paid leave. Here are just two policy items still in flux:
— Democrats are also trying to salvage a methane fee in the plan, one that Manchin “has pushed to remove or weaken,” NYT’s Coral Davenport reports.
— Sarah Ferris, Nicholas Wu and Marianne LeVine also write that Dems “are eyeing a compromise that would include new protections and work permits for millions of immigrants, including so-called ‘Dreamers,’ agricultural workers and those fleeing certain volatile nations,” to include in the package, though it will ultimately be up to the Senate parliamentarian.
SLOW-WALKING IT — Sen. JOSH HAWLEY (R-Mo.) blocked a series of confirmations for State Department nominees Tuesday “in a continuation of the unprecedented GOP-led campaign to slow-walk most of Biden’s picks for top foreign policy posts … over his misgivings about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan,” Andrew Desiderio reports.
THE WHITE HOUSE
NYT’s Katie Rogers recaps Biden’s second major foreign trip, where his major goal was “to reassert America’s ability to lead the world on climate change before it is too late. But he also wanted to reassert Joe Biden.”
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Speakers from Moms Demand Action, Giffords, Brady, March for Our Lives and the Community Justice Action Fund will gather in front of the Supreme Court at 9 a.m. today as the court prepares to hear oral arguments in NYSRPA v. Bruen, the New York NRA chapter’s challenge to permitting requirements for carrying guns in public. Speakers include former Rep. GABBY GIFFORDS (D-Ariz.), DAVID HOGG and AALAYAH EASTMOND of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and CAROLYN DIXON of Where Do We Go From Here.
IN MEMORIAM — Jean Rounds, wife of South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds, died Tuesday after a battle with sarcoma cancer.
Shalanda Young, the deputy OMB director, announced the birth of a new baby girl, Charlie.
Glenn Youngkin celebrated his gubernatorial win by signing and tossing basketballs into the audience. Fitting for the governor-elect who is 6’7” and a former RIce University basketball player.
Newsmax released a statement calling out Covid-19 misinformation spread by … its own reporter.
Bernie Sanders retweeted Larry Summers in one of the more unusual alliances we’ve seen in awhile.
Marjorie Taylor Greene was sent a letter from the sergeant-at-arms letting her know she has 20 violations for not wearing a mask. That’s $48,000 in fines, a quarter of her congressional salary.
New York Magazine had seven reporters stake out Eric Adams’ home in Brooklyn to try to solve the where-does-he-actually-live riddle. What they witnessed was wild.
Bernie Sanders used the POLITICO/Morning Consult poll to prove his point on Medicare expansion.
Greg Bluestein, the politics ace at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, was a teensy bit excited that the Braves won the World Series.
SPOTTED: Evan Spiegel and Miranda Kerr touring the monuments with their children and at the annual budget ball for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget on Tuesday night.
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Amy Grappone is joining the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University as senior director of comms and strategic engagement. She most recently was director of comms for Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.).
MEDIA MOVES — Ankush Khardori is now a contributing writer for N.Y. Magazine’s Intelligencer. He previously was a freelance writer and was a white-collar crime and financial fraud prosecutor at the Justice Department. … John Bennett is returning to CQ Roll Call, where he will be editor-at-large. He most recently was senior White House editor at the Washington Examiner. … Rick Santorum is joining Newsmax as a senior political analyst, after he was fired by CNN for remarks he made about the Native American genocide and culture.
TRANSITIONS — Xiyue Wang is joining Rep. Jim Banks’ (R-Ind.) office as national security adviser. He spent more than three years being held hostage in Iran from 2016-2019 and has since pursued graduate studies at Princeton. … Bri Gillis is now political director of the Immigrant Justice Fund at NILC. She previously was on the political teams at NARAL and Giffords, and is a Chuck Schumer, Dianne Feinstein and Mark Udall alum. … Christopher Eddowes is now manager of government affairs at Atlas Crossing. He most recently was a senior legislative assistant for Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.).
ENGAGED — Bailee Beshires, press assistant for Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), and Daniel Yu, senior application support specialist at Tesla Laboratories, got engaged Saturday. Pic
WEDDING — Joshua Chaffee, senior producer for Showtime’s “The Circus,” and Garima Prasai, director of operations and strategy at the nonprofit Resilient Cities Catalyst, got married Oct. 15 in an intimate ceremony with family in New York City. Pic
WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Lara Seligman, a Pentagon reporter at POLITICO, and Andy Baskin, an associate at Arent Fox, welcomed Max Adrian Baskin on Monday.
— John Cooper, acting director of media at the Heritage Foundation, and Ali Cooper, a licensed clinical social worker in Northern Virginia, welcomed Caleb Benaiah Cooper on Thursday. Pic
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) … Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) and Michelle Fischbach (R-Minn.) … Michael Dukakis … Anna Wintour … Katie Packer Beeson of Burning Glass Consulting … Newsmax’s Jenn Pellegrino … Jared Rizzi … Jeff Brownlee of Americans for Prosperity … Phyllis Cuttino of the Climate Action Campaign … Christie Stephenson … Paul Brathwaite of Federal Street Strategies … POLITICO’s Anthony Adragna, Renuka Rayasam and Ryan Hendrixson … Katie Fricchione … Gabby Adler … Amie Kershner … Quentin Fulks … Minh-Thu Pham of New American Voices and Connect-Frontier … Tara Rountree of Rep. Donald McEachin’s (D-Va.) office … Kelli Kedis Ogborn … Amy Rosenbaum … Brian Babcock-Lumish … Christian Haines … Julian Baird Gewirtz … David Case … Jack McLaughlin … Shawn Rusterholz … Stuart Rosenberg … Sky Gallegos … Bob Van Heuvelen … Charlie Hurt … former Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) … CAA’s Rachel Adler
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