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Democrats assess blame as GOP reacts to election by expanding 2022 target list

Emmer: Virginia election shows ‘voters are rejecting Democrat policies’

North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield is one of 13 Democrats added to the House GOP campaign arm's target list for 2022.
North Carolina Rep. G.K. Butterfield is one of 13 Democrats added to the House GOP campaign arm's target list for 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

After a bruising election night for their party in Virginia and New Jersey, Democrats in Congress debated where to place blame Wednesday while the National Republican Congressional Committee expanded its list of House targets for the 2022 midterms to include members in the Old Dominion and beyond.

“These results should be an alarm clock rousing us from sleep,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., a New Jersey Democrat whose state’s Democratic governor won a surprisingly close reelection race. “We are in charge. If we don’t deliver then we won’t deserve to govern.”

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said the results in New Jersey and Virginia — where Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe for governor by less than 3 points a year after Joe Biden carried the state by 10 — might have been different if Congress had passed an infrastructure bill and a broader set of social programs instead of being “mired in sausage-making.” 

“I don’t want to overstate the impact” that the Build Back Better reconciliation bill “is going to have on voters’ decisions. There’s lots of things the Democratic Party needs to wrestle with. But one of them is our failure to deliver something meaningful,” Murphy said.

Some liberal groups said the wave of GOP victories and stronger-than-expected showings were due to Democrats’ failure to agree on bold policies that would fire up voters. But Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats and pulled his opponents left when running for president in 2020, ducked a question from reporters about his takeaways from the election results, saying they should ask senators from Virginia instead. 

Party ‘let Terry down’

“Democrats let Terry down,” was the answer from Virginia’s junior senator, Democrat Tim Kaine. “If we had done the infrastructure/reconciliation bills in October that we will almost certainly do before the end of the month, it would have been extremely helpful.”

But Sen. Joe Manchin III saw no reason to step on the accelerator.

“If we’re going to do something, let’s take time and do it right, let’s make sure that people know what’s in it,” the West Virginia Democrat told reporters Wednesday. At another point, he said voters showed they wanted lawmakers to work together and be mindful of the impact of their policies, including inflation, which he believes could be a consequence of too much additional spending.

“I’ve been listening to the people in West Virginia; they’re concerned about inflation,” Manchin said. “They said, ‘You know, I go to the grocery store … [and] it takes me $30 more to buy what I did six months ago.’”

Election results weren’t surprising everywhere. In Ohio, the party that controlled open House seats at the beginning of the year will still control them after two special elections. In the 11th District, which stretches from Cleveland to Akron, Shontel Brown was elected to the seat fellow Democrat Marcia L. Fudge vacated in March to become Housing and Urban Development secretary. And in the 15th District, south of Columbus, voters picked Republican lobbyist Mike Carey, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, to succeed former GOP Rep. Steve Stivers, who resigned in May to run the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. 

Republicans need a net gain of just one seat in the Senate and five in the House to win control in 2022, and the NRCC responded to Tuesday’s results by adding 13 House Democrats to its existing list of targeted races.

[11 thoughts after Republicans’ big night in Virginia and New Jersey]

The committee is now targeting 70 incumbent Democrats, seeing opportunities in suburban districts that were once a stronghold for the GOP but defected to Democrats during the upheaval of Trump’s presidency. In Virginia, Youngkin outperformed Trump in the state’s suburban enclaves.  

‘No Democrat is safe’

“In a cycle like this, no Democrat is safe,” NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer said in a news release. “Voters are rejecting Democrat policies that have caused massive price increases, opened our borders, and spurred a nationwide crime wave.”

Among the new NRCC targets is Virginia Democrat Jennifer Wexton, who represents a district in suburban Washington, D.C. Republicans were already targeting two other Virginia Democrats, Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger

The other new NRCC targets are: 

House Democrats’ campaign arm said its Republican counterpart was drawing the wrong conclusions from the Virginia gubernatorial result. 

“The NRCC is mistaken if they think they can easily emulate a campaign that skipped a messy GOP primary, had no political record to defend, and routinely kept President Trump at arm’s length,” said Chris Taylor, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. 

“We have a year until the midterm elections,” he added, “and on top of passing historic legislation that includes game-changing investments in our infrastructure and working families, Democrats are working to ensure battleground voters understand the grave danger that House Republicans and their extremism present to not only our families, but our democracy.”  

It’s too early to know whether the races added to the NRCC’s target list Wednesday will ultimately become competitive. Most states are still redrawing their congressional maps as part of reapportionment and redistricting after the 2020 census. 

But the Virginia race offers some clues about the whims and policy priorities of potential suburban swing voters.

Youngkin sought to tap into parents’ outrage over how local schools handled the pandemic and how school districts handle teaching about race and racism. Emmer, a Minnesota Republican, discussed such matters during a conference call with reporters in mid-October. 

He said parents were showing up at school board meetings and engaging in politics because “they have legitimate, real concerns. They want to have a dialogue, and instead these people are trying to crush them with the strong arm of government. They’re going to be held accountable for it in November of ’22, I believe.”   

The contours of 2022 remain unpredictable with the Supreme Court taking on abortion rights cases as well as a high-profile gun rights case, and uncertainty about the future of the COVID-19 pandemic and its disruptions to the U.S. economy and American life.

Mary Ellen McIntire, Jessica Wehrman, Jennifer Shutt, Bridget Bowman and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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