ALEXANDRIA, Va. – In one of the most stressful weeks of her oratory – when she wanted to unite her scattered party and unite two extensive marriages – Nancy Pelosi took the time to meet at her Capitol apartment with a group of Democrats from New Jersey and Virginia carrying their own urgent message.
Ms Pelosi was warned that if the two candidates for governor of the two states, especially former governor Terry McAuliffe in liberal-oriented Virginia, lost on Tuesday, it could have a cascading effect on the party, leading Democrats to withdraw from President Biden and his ambitious agenda and perhaps even lead some to retirement.
A spokesman for Gerald Connolly of Virginia said he took advantage of a meeting last Tuesday to urge Ms. Pelosi to pass a bipartisan infrastructure law already approved by the Senate and share her concerns about the party’s assets. “You don’t have to be the first to worry,” he said, referring to the word Democrats in the House of Representatives use to describe their most politically vulnerable employees.
Unable to overcome mutual mistrust between a group of progressives and moderates in the Senate, Ms Pelosi withdrew public works legislation from consideration a few hours after Mr Biden visited the Capitol on Thursday, shattering the group’s hopes of extraditing Mr McAuliff and other Democrats. he wins the vote after two months of breaking bad news.
The former Virginia governor and his best aides, who have been urging congressional and White House officials to pass the law for more than a month, were stunned and angry, Democrats said. They were surprised that Ms. Pelosi was forced to postpone the vote for the second time in a month, confused as to why the president had not put more aggressive pressure, and despairing at the impact of another round of negative stories from Washington.
“The last two and a half months look like the Democrats are in a mess,” said a spokesman for Filemon Vela, a Texas Democrat who was raising money for Mr. McAuliffe.
The gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, which take place a year after the presidential election, have long been the first political temperature tests in the new White House and Congress, especially among the suburbs that decide the elections that abound in both states. . But rarely have the competitions traditionally held over decidedly local issues been so intertwined with national political debate and, in the case of Virginia, have shown such a big sign for the future of both sides.
Mr McAuliffe’s strategy of relentlessly linking his Republican rival Glenn Youngkin to Donald J. Trump represents the best test so far of how much the former president is still pulling on his party in the blue and purple states. At the same time, Mr Youngkin’s fashion work on Mr Trump – avoiding his embrace without alienating him or his base – and his attacks on Mr McAuliff over the role of parents in schools will show whether GOP candidates can avoid Trumpism by attracting attention. argue that democratic extremism is on issues of race and gender.
Far from the old readiness of races across the country, such as property taxes and teacher pay, the issues in Virginia reflect the canyon polarization of the state and what each side portrays as a terrible threat posed by the other.
For Republicans, Virginia represents a promise of renewal, an opportunity to rebuild their party in a fairly forbidden state – and without having to make a hard decision to accept or reject Mr. Trump altogether. Mr Youngkin addressed supporters near a farmers’ market in Alexandria’s old town on Saturday morning, saying his victory would cause a “shock wave across the country.”
If they suffered another loss here, they would make it clear to Republicans that they cannot continue to delay internal reckoning about the former president and that even in exile, his unpopularity remains the party’s biggest obstacle.
Since Mr. Biden took over the country for 10 points last year, Mr. McAuliffe, however, started the game with an advantage befitting a former governor, as, for example, the most important consequences in Virginia are for Democrats. The party is also haunted by recent history: their loss in the race for governor of Virginia in 2009 – the last time Democrats controlled the White House and both congressional chambers – announced the party’s deletion in next year’s election.
If Mr. McAuliffe lost or barely won, as most polls show, moderates will demand the immediate passage of the Infrastructure Act. Liberals will argue that the Democratic Party and democracy themselves are in such poor condition that they must pass new electoral laws. And strategists in the party’s ideological spectrum will have to deal with political gaming conditions in the midterm elections that reach deeper into blue America.
“We’re going to have to change our calculation of what the race is and look at the districts that Trump has lost,” said Rebecca Pearcey, a Democratic adviser. “Even if he wins,” she added, referring to Mr McAuliffe, “we will have to re-evaluate what the map looks like on Wednesday because Tuesday will not be a beautiful night.”
With Mr Biden’s assessment of approval among independents falling among independents due to the summer resurgence of Covid-19, the failed withdrawal from Afghanistan and rising inflation, Democrats are also preparing for additional retirements among lawmakers who would rather not run in the newly reshaped district or risk ending their careers in defeat.
Three domestic Democrats have already announced their departures earlier this month. Defeat Mr. McAuliffe in the country that Mr. Biden so easily got it would probably hasten this exodus because lawmakers will attribute it to the president’s unpopularity. “We’ll see a lot more by the end of the year,” Ms. Pearcey announced.
Mrs Pelosi is well aware of these risks of flying, she is alone – and privately expressed concern about the consequences of the race Mr. McAuliffe. Last week, she told her Democratic counterpart that Parliament’s failure to pass the Infrastructure Act could jeopardize Mr McAuliffe, says a Member familiar with the exchange.
Mrs. Pelosi, a longtime friend of Mr. McAuliffe, led a fundraiser for him last week and personally gave him $ 250,000 and raised more than three times as much. She also spoke to him several times over the phone about negotiations on the infrastructure law.
The response next year may be partly unavoidable because, as one longtime Democrat noted, the party often suffers in the polls after pursuing a large-scale agenda carefully negotiated by congressional Democrats.
“Someone reminded me: in ’66, after everything we did in ’65, we were defeated,” said spokesman Robert C. Scott of Virginia, referring to the losses Democrats suffered when they crossed most of the Great Society. “We overtook Obamacare and we were defeated.”
Just as the lengthy debate on the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and 2010 overshadowed their economic recovery legislation, Democrats this year focused more on negotiating their high-level twin laws than on promoting their previous legislation to help Covid.
While Democratic lawmakers have dealt almost exclusively with the infrastructure proposal and their broader proposal on social security and climate – matters on which they have not reached a consensus – Americans outside Washington have become impatient with the protracted virus and rising commodity prices.
“If you listen to Democratic speaking points, that’s all we didn’t do,” Mr Scott said, noting that the child tax credit passed in the Covid rescue plan earlier this year often remained unlimited.
Vela, a moderate who has been demanding an infrastructure vote since August, said McAuliffe’s defeat should spur the swift adoption of the bill, which the Senate passed with 69 votes. “Progressives should wake up and realize that linking the two processes was a big mistake,” he said, adding, “It’s from someone who supports both laws.”
But many on the left believe the party’s vulnerability, revealed by the prospect of defeat in Virginia, where they haven’t lost a nationwide race since 2009, only underscores the need to abandon the Senate filibuster and enforce extensive election laws that could prevent a disastrous year 2022 and prolonged power loss.
“A close race in Virginia would show how difficult interim mandates will be for Democrats and the urgency of adopting democratic reform,” said Waleed Shahid, a spokesman for the Left Democrats of Justice who grew up in Virginia.
The Progressives were already without enthusiasm for Mr McAuliffe, a permanent member of the party establishment and former Democrat president, and were annoyed that he did nothing more this year to help the party’s MPs retain the majority they got in Parliament. delegates in 2019.
“No matter what happens on Tuesday, one lesson we already know from Virginia is that we better prioritize winning state laws, as our democracy depends on it – because it is,” said Daniel Squadron, who runs a state project aimed at electing Democrats in state houses. .
For Democrats in Northern Virginia who thrived in the Trump years, there is a particularly close connection between what is happening in the state’s capital and their seats.
Mr. Connolly recalled being at a Halloween parade last week in Vienna in Va. a handful of people yelled to pass the Infrastructure Act, which is a major quality of life problem in its congested district. “It really caught my attention,” he said.
Now, he said, he hopes it won’t take another high-profile loss in his home country to attract his client’s attention.
“If the past is a prologue,” he said, “we can’t repeat what happened in 2009.”