by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Republicans won the governor’s race in Virginia, and turned New Jersey into a nail-biter, by surging in the suburbs. That’s already become the conventional wisdom of the 2021 cycle, and in this case it’s wise to follow the convention. If you compare how the Virginia and New Jersey suburbs performed this year to how they voted for president last year, the shift is unmistakable. Royal-blue inner suburbs became light-blue. Violet neighborhoods shaded into purple. Light-red exurbs turned bright crimson.
Because Virginia and New Jersey hold their gubernatorial races in odd-numbered years, and conveniently close to the nation’s political and media capitals, they often get outsized media coverage. Given the current political moment, the victorious Glenn Youngkin will get even more coverage than usual — fawning from right-leaning media rooting for his success, hostile from left-leaning media rooting for his failure.
Still, success in gubernatorial elections is hardly the only sign of GOP resurgence this year in decidedly non-rural places. Quite a few other Republicans have also won election to local offices in cities and suburbs across the country. These Republicans essentially ran campaigns comparable to those of Youngkin and Ciattarelli in style if not in specifics. Rather than either cleaving closely to former president Donald Trump or actively denigrating him, they largely rejected efforts by opponents and journalists to inject Trump into their campaigns at all. Mattie Parker, for example, kept the officially nonpartisan office of Fort Worth mayor in the GOP column this summer despite a marked blue shift in the Lone Star State’s largest metros during Trump’s tenure. “When I was asked about the president and the election, I would just say, ‘I operate differently,’” Parker told the New York Times. She ran on a platform of cutting taxes, controlling spending, improving education, and fighting crime. Sound familiar?