Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The Morning: Democrats’ rough election night

What does the party do now?

Good morning. Republicans had a very good election night.

Glenn Youngkin after defeating Terry McAuliffe in Virginia.Melissa Lyttle for The New York Times

Virginia goes red

Democrats had a rough election night. They lost the governor's race in Virginia, a state Joe Biden won by 10 percentage points only a year ago. In New Jersey, which Biden won by 16 points, the governor's election is too close to call.

So what do Democrats do now?

They have two basic options. The first is for congressional Democrats to try to distance themselves from Biden and drop his legislative agenda. The second is for the party to decide that its best chance at political recovery involves passing that agenda — which is still broadly popular, polls show.

It is hard to see how Democrats would benefit from the first option. But it's not clear whether they remain unified enough to pull off the second.

Big Swings

Yesterday's elections were certainly alarming for Democrats. Glenn Youngkin became the first Republican to win a top-of-the-ticket race in Virginia since 2009, beating Terry McAuliffe, 50.7 to 48.6 percent. Republicans also seem to be on track to win the lieutenant governor and state attorney general races, and to take control of the Virginia House of Delegates.

In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, looks likely to pull off a close win. "Seems like almost all of the remaining vote batches will lean Democratic, in many cases pretty heavily," Ryan Matsumoto of Inside Elections wrote. But the situation remains uncertain — and a close Democratic win in New Jersey is still surprising.

Why are voters so unhappy with Democrats? The main reason appears to be the pandemic, which has disrupted everyday life and the global economy for longer than many people expected.

Republican candidates have also focused voters on a set of social issues, like police funding and so-called identity politics, in which high-profile progressive positions are sometimes out of step with public opinion. As The Times's Lisa Lerer wrote: "The crushing setbacks for Democrats in heavily suburban Virginia and New Jersey hinted at a conservative-stoked backlash to the changing mores around race and identity championed by the party."

(In Minneapolis, the site of George Floyd's murder, voters yesterday rejected a ballot measure that would have replaced the city's police department with a Department of Public Safety.)

These developments — the pandemic, above all — have caused a sharp slide in Biden's approval rating. "As Democrats try and make sense of the wreckage tonight, one fact stands out as one of the easiest explanations," The Times's Nate Cohn wrote. "Joe Biden has lower approval ratings at this stage of his presidency than nearly any president in the era of modern polling."

Now to Capitol Hill

Of course, some level of dissatisfaction is typical for a president's first two years in office. (The Virginia governor's race often goes against a sitting president.) But it nonetheless confirms that Republicans are clear favorites to retake both the House and the Senate in next year's midterm elections. In that scenario, Democrats would probably be unable to pass almost any significant legislation in 2023 and 2024.

With the elections over, the country's political focus will return to Capitol Hill and the two big bills that make up the crux of Biden's legislative agenda, one a bipartisan infrastructure bill, the other a Democratic bill that would help middle-class families and reduce pollution.

Together, the bills include a range of policies on which voters tend to support Democratic positions — like expanding Medicare, Medicaid, pre-K and federal programs to help create good-paying jobs.

But moderate Democrats have so far refused to pass the second bill. And progressive Democrats have refused to pass the infrastructure bill without more confidence that the bill focused on health care, education and the climate would pass. The infighting has contributed to voter frustration that Biden and the Democrats aren't using their power to help American families.

Before the election, some Democrats warned that a defeat in Virginia could make it even harder for members of Congress to come together on the two bills. Yet it's not clear what their alternative is. Failing to pass any major legislation would probably contribute to a perception that Democrats can't be trusted to run Washington.

Congressional Democrats did seem to make progress yesterday, coming to an apparent agreement on a provision that would reduce prescription-drug prices. On the other hand, as The Washington Post's Karen Tumulty noted, parties that suffer disappointments like the Democrats' last night "tend to waste a lot of time on recriminations, rather than sober reassessment."

Whether the party collapses into more infighting — or manages to unify itself — is the biggest political question coming out of last night.

Below, we give you more detail on election results from around the country.

Eric Adams after voting in Brooklyn.Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Left vs. center left

Moderate Democrats had a better night than progressives.

Eric Adams became New York's mayor-elect, easily winning the general election after having relied on an anti-crime message to defeat more progressive candidates in the Democratic primary. In Buffalo, India Walton, a socialist running for mayor, appears to be trailing the incumbent, Byron Brown, a more moderate Democrat who lost in the primary but ran as a write-in candidate.

In the Seattle mayor's race, Bruce Harrell, a Democrat who called for more police funding, is leading Lorena González, who endorsed cutting police budgets. And a law-and-order Republican, Ann Davison, is leading Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, a self-described police "abolitionist," in the city attorney race.

Progressives did win some victories yesterday. Michelle Wu, a protégée of Senator Elizabeth Warren, will become the next mayor of Boston. Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Dearborn, Mich., elected progressive mayors as well. Larry Krasner, Philadelphia's progressive district attorney, easily won re-election against a Republican challenger.

And Tucson overwhelmingly passed a measure to lift the minimum wage to $15 an hour — another economic issue on which the progressive position is popular nationally not only with Democratic voters but with many moderate and Republican voters too.

Overall, though, progressives are struggling to turn their activist energy into many electoral victories. They have won some political offices in deep blue places, as they did again last night, but very few in swing districts or states.

More election results

New York City: Alvin Bragg will become Manhattan's first Black district attorney, inheriting an investigation into the Trump family business. Shahana Hanif, of Brooklyn, is the first Muslim woman elected to the City Council.

Long Island: Raymond Tierney, a Republican, upset the incumbent Democrat for Suffolk County district attorney. The race in neighboring Nassau County remained too close to call.

Detroit: Mayor Mike Duggan won a third term, a sign that voters approve of his job leading the city out of bankruptcy and restoring basic services like streetlights.

Wisconsin: In a Milwaukee-area school board race, incumbents defeated a recall effort by conservative candidates who opposed teaching racial equity and diversity.

You can visit The Times all day for updated election coverage.


The Virus
The dose for young children will be one-third of the dose given to adolescents and adults.Pfizer
Other Big Stories
The Braves celebrate.Annie Mulligan for The New York Times

"Democrats probably need a new way to talk about progressive ideology and education," Ross Douthat writes, about the Virginia election.

Saying the U.S. is in a "Cold War" with China understates the challenge, Joseph Nye argues.

Ends today

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The Women of Excellence float in the Tyler Rose Parade.Eli Durst for The New York Times

The Rose Queen: A fairy-tale-esque tradition is back in full bloom.

Unfrozen: As Earth warms, ancient secrets are emerging from the ice.

A Times classic: On your next trip, leave these things at home.

Lives Lived: In 1980, Pat Martino's career as a jazz guitarist seemed to be at an end after brain surgery left him with no memory. He painstakingly relearned how to play, and went on to do so for another three decades. He died at 77.


Kill the four-hour ballgame

Baseball has a slowness problem. Regular-season games are now 37 minutes longer than in 1980 (as the chart below shows), and playoff games take even more time. Ten postseason games this year have exceeded four hours, sometimes ending after midnight.

Source: Baseball Reference

M.L.B. officials, worried that long games are hurting the sport's popularity, are looking for solutions. The most promising ideas — based on an experiment in a California minor league — appears to be a pitch clock. The clock, which gives pitchers no more than 17 seconds to throw the ball, reduced games by an average of 20 minutes.

Raúl Ibañez, a former ballplayer who now works for M.L.B., told The Ringer he was "blown away" by the experiment's results. "It felt like the game that I grew up watching in the 1980s." Last night's Game 6 of the World Series lasted three hours 22 minutes.

For more: The Times asked reporters and readers in 2017 how they would speed up baseball. They had radical ideas. — Tom Wright-Piersanti, a Morning editor


What to Cook
David Malosh for The New York Times

This version of birria, a classic Mexican stew, features juicy chicken thighs.

Life Hacks

Enhance your reading experience by scribbling in the margins.

What to Listen to

Five minutes that will make you love Bach.

Late Night
Now Time to Play

The pangrams from yesterday's Spelling Bee were checkable and hackable. Here is today's puzzle — or you can play online.

Here's today's Mini Crossword, and a clue: Pick up the tab (three letters).

If you're in the mood to play more, find all our games here.

Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

P.S. Al Gore, Greta Thunberg and others will speak at The Times's Climate Hub today. Watch for free.

"The Daily" is about the climate summit. On "The Argument," a debate about Daylight Time.

Claire Moses, Tom Wright-Piersanti, Ashley Wu and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at

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