Virginia’s governor’s race ended in a major upset early Wednesday and New Jersey’s governor incumbent eked out a win, both states that President Joe Biden won easily just a year ago made an abrupt 180.
Republican Glenn Youngkin will be Virginia's next governor after tapping into culture war fights over schools and race to unite former President Donald Trump's most fervent supporters with enough suburban voters to become the first Republican to win Virginia's top office in 12 years.
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy narrowly won reelection in his reliably blue state.
Despite avid campaigning by both Biden and former President Barack Obama, the closeness of governor's races in what were expected to be Democratic strongholds indicated just how much Biden's political fortunes have changed in a short period.
Both races will provide some of the earliest clues about the political environment heading into the 2022 midterm elections.
Elections held across the U.S. on Tuesday were also the first to test new voting restrictions in some Republican-controlled states and gave elections officials a chance to counter a year’s worth of misinformation about voting security.
It’s been several months since rioters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 to interrupt the certification of Biden’s victory following meritless claims of voter fraud and election officials appeared to be on track to deliver a relatively smooth Election Day after a year of dealing with false claims and death threats.
There were few reports of voting or equipment problems Tuesday other than minor issues such as power outages or polling places opening late, which are not unusual on Election Day.
Here are some key races Washington leaders are eyeing.
Virginia: Republican newcomer Glenn Youngkin wins governor in test of Biden popularity
ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA - SEPTEMBER 28: Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-VA) (L) debates Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin hosted by the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce September 28, 2021 in Alexandria, Virginia. The 2021 Vi
Republican newcomer Glenn Youngkin has won Virginia’s governor’s race, which could prove to be a devastating blow to President Joe Biden and Democrats on Capitol Hill.
The race was called late Tuesday evening with Youngkin taking 50.9% of the votes, according to the Associated Press.
The 54-year-old Youngkin's defeat of Democrat Terry McAuliffe marked a sharp turnabout in a state that has shifted to the left over the past decade and was captured by Biden last year by a 10-point margin. It is certain to add to the Democrats' anxiety about their grip on political power heading into next year's midterms, when the party's thin majority in Congress could be erased.
The election was the first major test of voter sentiment since Biden took office, and the results were a stern warning sign for the president's own support. His administration has been shaken repeatedly in recent months, beginning with the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, challenges in emerging from the pandemic and a legislative agenda at risk of stalling on Capitol Hill.
Public polling had been shifting in Youngkin’s direction in recent weeks, while McAuliffe, a former governor and close ally of Biden, struggled to energize his base as the president’s approval rating sinks. Republicans, consumed by infighting and crisis while Donald Trump was in office, became suddenly optimistic they could win in a state Trump lost by 10 percentage points last year.
The results may ultimately be interpreted as an early judgment of Biden. The closeness of the governor's race indicated just how much his party's political fortunes have changed in a short period.
The White House has been shaken in recent months by the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, a sometimes sluggish economic recovery amid the pandemic and a legislative agenda at risk of stalling on Capitol Hill.
A loss in a state that has trended toward Democrats for more than a decade would deepen the sense of alarm inside the party heading into next year’s midterm elections when control of Congress is at stake. But Biden expressed optimism going into the evening while acknowledging that "the off-year is always unpredictable."
History was working against Democrats, who control the legislative and executive branches in Virginia and in Washington. Traditionally, the party that holds the White House almost always loses the Virginia governor’s race. McAuliffe himself was the first Virginia governor in 40 years to break that trend in 2013.
A Republican presidential candidate hasn’t carried the state since 2004. Census data shows the state’s Democratic-leaning northern part of the state is growing, while GOP strongholds are losing population.
Virginia: Republican Winsome Sears becomes state's 1st woman of color to serve as lieutenant governor
Winsome Sears, Republican lieutenant governor candidate or Virginia, listens during a campaign stop for Glenn Youngkin, Republican gubernatorial candidate for Virginia, at a shopping center in Chantilly, Virginia, U.S., on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. On
Republican Winsome Sears, who returned to Virginia politics after an absence of nearly two decades, has become the first female lieutenant governor and the first woman of color to win statewide office in Virginia.
Sears defeated Democrat Hala Ayala in Tuesday's election. Ayala also would have been the first female lieutenant governor and first woman of color to hold statewide office if she had won.
Sears will succeed Democrat Justin Fairfax, who unsuccessfully ran for governor. The marquee election Tuesday was the gubernatorial race, which Republican candidate Youngkin won.
Early Wednesday, Sears stood with her family in front of cheering supporters at a victory party in Chantilly, saying, "What you are looking at is the American Dream."
The post frequently serves as a launching pad to the governor’s mansion. Half of the past 10 lieutenant governors have gone on to become governor.
Sears is a former Marine who immigrated to the United States from Jamaica as a girl and vaulted to victory in a crowded primary on the enthusiasm generated by a campaign photo of her posing with a military rifle.
Sears had a brief stint in electoral politics 20 years ago as a one-term delegate in the General Assembly, representing parts of Hampton Roads. Her return to politics after a two-decade absence began when she served as national chairperson for Black Americans to Re-Elect President Trump.
During the primary, Sears ridiculed mask mandates put in place by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, posting a video in which she pulled a mask off a cardboard cutout of Northam and stomped it into the sand, with the Virginia Beach boardwalk in the background.
ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA - AUGUST 12: Virginia Delegate Hala Ayala, Democratic nominee in the 2021 Virginia lieutenant gubernatorial election, speaks during a campaign event for former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (R) at the Port City Brewing Company Au
Meanwhile, Ayala was launched into public office by her organizing role in the resistance to Trump when he was inaugurated in 2017.
Ayala won election to the House in November 2017 and quickly rose through the Democratic ranks to serve as chief deputy whip, helping to shepherd a raft of legislation into law after Democrats took control of the legislature in 2020, including the abolition of the death penalty, the legalization of marijuana, and election reforms.
New Jersey: Gov. Phil Murphy wins 2nd term
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - OCTOBER 28: New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy speaks during a Get Out The Vote rally with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on October 28, 2021 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Polls have Murphy leading Republican challenger Jack Ciattarel
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey narrowly won reelection in his reliably blue state while a Republican political newcomer delivered a stunning upset in the Virginia governor’s race, sending a warning Wednesday to Democrats that their grip on power in Washington may be in peril.
Murphy had some sizable advantages, leading in public polls and raising more money than his Republican opponent Jack Ciattarelli. He touted support from some Democratic heavy-hitters such as former President Barack Obama, who came to the state on Saturday, and Biden, who visited last month to promote his spending plan.
The race was poised to have national implications if Murphy would have lost, though it got a lot less attention than Virginia's high-profile governor's contest.
The state has voted Democratic in every presidential contest since 1992. It had not elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate since Clifford Case in 1972. But governor's races have been continually in play for the GOP. The last three Republican elected governors have won two consecutive terms, though the win for Murphy was not a shock in a state that Biden won over Trump by nearly 16 percentage points last year.
Minneapolis: Voters reject disbanding police department for new public safety agency
People gather around a landscaped roundabout at George Floyd Square as the city begins to reopen the area to traffic in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., on Thursday, June 3, 2021. Crews have removed concrete barriers, artwork, flowers and other items fr
Minneapolis voters on Tuesday rejected a proposal to replace the city’s police department with a new Department of Public Safety, an idea that supporters hoped would bring radical change to policing in the city where George Floyd’s death under an officer’s knee brought calls for racial justice.
Fifty-seven percent of voters said "no" to a proposed charter amendment that would have eliminated the minimum police staffing requirement as well as the position of police chief.
Opponents of the proposed charter amendment said it was vague, with no specific plan for the replacement.
The police chief, Medaria Arradondo, along with Mayor Jacob Frey, have touted several policy changes during their tenure in an effort to reform the department, which includes increasing body camera compliance among officers, and bans on "warrior-style" training, chokeholds and pretextual stops for low-level offenses.
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is White, was convicted in April of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter in the May 25, 2020, death of Floyd. He was sentenced to 22 1/2 years for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes as the Black man said he couldn’t breathe.
Minneapolis: Jacob Frey reelected as mayor
FILE - Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey is given a tour of the Capitol. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has been reelected for a second term.
Frey was declared the winner with more than 49.1% of the tabulated ranked-choice votes, according to FOX 9. Kate Knuth, a Democrat, made it to the final round but only came away with 38.2% of the total votes.
Seventeen candidates ran in the race, including many who took issue with the way Frey has handled changes to the police department since one of its officers killed George Floyd last year. He clashed with the city council over how best to reform the Minneapolis Police Department in the wake of Floyd’s death, risking his political future and drawing the ire of the city’s most liberal voices by opposing a ballot question asking voters to eliminate the police department. The proposal was rejected.
Only a handful of candidates were thought to be serious threats to Frey, with two — Sheila Nezhad and Knuth — teaming up on a strategy that urged voters to leave Frey off their ballots entirely. The pair had the backing of U.S. Rep. llhan Omar.
New York City: Manhattan elects its first Black district attorney
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 13: People walk into the Manhattan District Attorney's office on October 13, 2017 in New York City. Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, has come under intense criticism from both women's groups and others for h
Democrat Alvin Bragg has been elected Manhattan’s next district attorney.
Bragg becomes the city’s first Black candidate to hold the position, receiving 85% of votes.
The 48-year-old Democrat easily defeated Republican Thomas Kenniff on Tuesday to join a wave of progressive, reform-minded prosecutors in several big U.S cities.
When Bragg takes office in January, he’ll inherit an ongoing investigation of Trump. Manhattan prosecutors this year charged Trump’s company and its longtime finance chief with tax fraud.
Bragg campaigned partly on a promise to change the culture of the district attorney’s office. He said he wants to "shrink the system" and look for alternatives to prosecuting small "crimes of poverty."
The race succeeds retiring District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. Bragg will lead an office of about 500 lawyers who occasionally have to take on cases involving the rich, powerful or famous.
Bragg spent the last week of his campaign questioning New York City police officials in a rare judicial inquiry into the 2014 police chokehold death of Eric Garner, whose pleas of "I can’t breathe" became a rallying cry of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Bragg, a civil rights lawyer and former federal prosecutor, is representing Garner’s mother as she presses the city for more public accountability for officers and commanders who were involved in Garner's death, none of whom were criminally charged.
Kenniff is a defense attorney and former prosecutor and Army Judge Advocate General. Kenniff said he’d be a more conventional district attorney: tough on crime and opposed to the state bail reforms two years ago that eliminated pretrial incarceration for many charges. Kenniff pledged to rebuild the office, which he said had been plagued by attrition.
Philadelphia: Democrat Larry Krasner stays as city’s district attorney
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has won a second term, beating out GOP challenger Charles Peruto Jr., according to The Associated Press.
Critics have placed the blame on Krasner and other progressive prosecutors for the increase in gun crimes. Supporters have pushed back, noting that rising violence during the pandemic — amid reduced social services and economic instability — are hitting cities with both liberal district attorneys and traditional law-and-order prosecutors.
Krasner, a 60-year-old longtime civil rights and defense attorney, won election in 2017 against a crowded field by billing himself as the outsider candidate capable of making radical change.
Peruto Jr., another longtime defense attorney, announced he would be running against Krasner earlier this year, claiming the incumbent had been too soft on crime. He also stated that he was more fit for the job because he was born and raised in Philadelphia.
According to FOX 29, May’s Democratic primary was seen as a referendum on whether a wave of prosecutors elected on promises of criminal justice reform — measures like shorter probation and parole and a curtailing of cash bail that disproportionately keeps poor defendants confined before trial — would be blamed for increasing violence.
The outlet pointed out that critics have placed the blame on Krasner and other progressive prosecutors for the increase in gun crimes. Supporters have pushed back, noting that rising violence during the pandemic — amid reduced social services and economic instability — is hitting cities with both liberal district attorneys and traditional law-and-order prosecutors.
Maine: People vote ‘yes’ on proposed ‘right to food’ amendment
SOUTH PORTLAND, ME - SEPTEMBER 2: Ruth Knight of South Portland picks out produce at the farmers market in South Portland on Sunday, September 2, 2018. (Staff Photo by Ariana van den Akker/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
The people of Maine voted "yes" on a unique measure that declared individuals have an "unalienable right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their own choosing," according to the Associated Press.
Depending on whom you ask, Maine’s proposed "right to food" constitutional amendment would simply put people in charge of how and what they eat — or would endanger animals and food supplies and turn urban neighborhoods into cattle pastures.
For supporters, the language was short and to the point, ensuring the right to grow vegetables and raise livestock in an era when corporatization threatens local ownership of the food supply, a constitutional experiment that has never been tried in any state.
"It’s always a good idea to secure and protect an individual right in the world we live in. Food is life," said Democratic state Sen. Craig Hickman, a supporter of the proposal. "I don’t understand why anyone would be afraid of saying so out loud in the constitution."
Opponents worried the proposed amendment was deceptively vague, representing a threat to food safety and animal welfare.
The amendment proposal is an outgrowth of the right-to-food movement, sometimes called the food sovereignty movement, which has expanded in recent years in Maine and states around the U.S. and Canada.
The movement comprises a patchwork of small farmers, raw milk enthusiasts, libertarians, back-to-the-land advocates, anti-corporatists and others who want to ensure local control of food systems.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.