Why the Dem strategy in Virginia failed, and how Youngkin flipped the state

Judy Woodruff discusses Tuesday's election outcomes and its implications with veteran Democratic strategist James Carville, co-host of the podcast, "Politics War Room," former Republican congresswoman Barbara Comstock, who represented Northern Virginia until 2019 and is now a senior adviser at the law firm Baker Donelson, and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And to help us understand more about what these election results mean, I'm joined by three political experts.

    Veteran Democratic strategist James Carville worked on many Democratic campaigns, including as lead strategist for President Bill Clinton in 1992. He is now the co-host of the podcast "Politics War Room."

    And full disclosure, the other co-host is my husband, journalist Al Hunt.

    Former Republican Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, she represented Northern Virginia until 2019. She is now a senior adviser at the law firm Baker Donelson. And Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report With Amy Walter.

    Hello to all three of you.

    And, Amy Walter, I'm going to start with you, because you have been looking very closely at these exit polls, interviews with voters as they left their poll places yesterday. We want to try to understand more about who voted and how they voted. Tell us what you're seeing.

  • Amy Walter, The Cook Political Report:

    Well, Judy, it's pretty career, whether it's Virginia or New Jersey, that this was really a repudiation, in many ways, of the president.

    President Biden's low approval ratings nationally are also pretty low in these blue states. The exit poll in Virginia showed that President Biden's job approval rating was just 45 percent. This is a state he won with 54 percent.

    So the drag that the president's disapproval rating has goes all the way even into these state and local rails, down-ballot, as well as the gubernatorial. All politics now is national. It's not local anymore. So I think that's one big factor.

    The other is there is a question throughout the Trump years from Democrats and Republicans about just how sturdy this suburban movement away from Republicans and to Democrats would be. As one Democrat said to me during that era, he said, I'm worried that we're just renting these voters.

    And based on the results of last night, indeed, it looks like they were just rented, at least at this point. Democrats lost the ground they had made up during the Trump era with many suburban voters, especially the exurbs outside of the Beltway in Washington, in and around Richmond, and in the Tidewater area.

    They didn't lose as much ground as going way, way back. They didn't abound as well as, say, Barack Obama did. But you combine that with really solid turnout, above presidential level numbers, for Glenn Youngkin in some of the rural areas, and that was just really politically a deadly combination for Terry McAuliffe.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And very quickly, we can show our viewers a graphic that shows that Glenn Youngkin was able to pull in, what, 53 percent of suburban voters in Virginia, compared to President — former President Trump, 45 percent just last November.

    James Carville, to you, looking at these results, your party, what went wrong?

  • James Carville, Democratic Strategist:

    Well, what went wrong is this stupid wokeness.

    All right? Don't just look at Virginia and New Jersey. Look at Long Island, look at Buffalo, look at Minneapolis. Even look at Seattle, Washington. I mean, this defund the police lunacy, this take Abraham Lincoln's name off of schools, that — people see that.

    And it's just — really have a suppressive effect all across the country to Democrats. Some of these people need to go to a woke detox center or something. They're expressing language that people just don't use. And there's a backlash and a frustration at that.

    And you're right. Suburbanites in Northern Virginia, suburbanites in Northern New Jersey pulled away a little bit. Youngkin never ran any ads against Biden. And I think what he did is just let the Democrats pull the pin and watch the grenade go off on them.

    And we have got to change this and not be about changing dictionaries and change laws. And these faculty lounge people that sit around mulling about I don't know what are — they're not working. Look what happened in Buffalo, again, Seattle. I think the Republicans may have won a city attorney's race in Seattle, the autonomous zone.

    Who could even think of something that stupid? And they're suppressing our vote. And I have got news for you. You're hurting the party. You're hurting the very people that you want to help.

    And Terry got caught up. He's a good friend of mine. He's a good guy. He got caught up in something national, and we have got to change this internally, in my view.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Barbara Comstock, we have heard that perspective from James Carville, the Democrat. What about from the Republican perspective? What did Glenn Youngkin do right? What did the Democrats do wrong?

  • Fmr. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA):

    Well, I would agree with James on the wrong end.

    But, for Glenn, he's just a very uniquely talented candidate, competent person, and he understands that politics is about addition, not subtraction, like Donald Trump. And it's bringing people together, the sunny optimism you saw in him.

    And as James knows, it's the economy, stupid. And the economy was the number one issue in Virginia. And he focused on that. And as a competent businessman, but also somebody who was very involved in charity and philanthropy, he really — his genuineness came through.

    And then focusing on the education issues, those are always state issues. And parents have been homeschooling their kids online, and they want to be engaged and involved. And that — I think Michael Steele called Terry's line on parents not being involved as sort of throwing parents under the school bus, a pretty disastrous line, and those things happen in elections, and he just doubled down and wouldn't leave it.

    And then the public safety issue, I think James is exactly right, that public safety issue played in Virginia, and you had police and law enforcement strongly supporting Glenn. He had endorsements from a lot of Democrats in the law enforcement community because of what the Democrats had been doing.

    They endorsed Glenn. And I think what you saw in Minneapolis and New York with having now a new mayor who's a former police officer, I think the defund the police was also disastrous. So these things all came together in a perfect storm. But Glenn also did even better with rural base voters than Donald Trump did, because I…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We saw that.

  • Fmr. Rep. Barbara Comstock:

    And many of that was women, because I think women realize we like to have a nice person with a sunny personality.

    It wasn't that we disliked Republican ideas. We didn't like Donald Trump. People like me, an anti-Trump Republican, in my family, a lot of my friends, it was very easy to vote for the positive, bringing together vision of Glenn Youngkin after going through the toxic years of Donald Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that's what I want to ask you about, Amy Walter.

    Terry McAuliffe went into this campaign trying to make former President Trump a big issue, tried to tie Glenn Youngkin to him. What happened to that strategy?

  • Amy Walter:

    Well, quite frankly, it didn't work for the reasons that Barbara just laid out.

    It was hard to make Glenn Youngkin a Trump clone because he didn't embrace Donald Trump. Yes, he had to sort of thread the needle during the nomination process, so he didn't completely give him a stiff-arm and say, get away from me, but he did keep him out of that race.

    This is going to be the real question going forward, Judy, is, will Republicans be able to do the same thing, be as disciplined as Youngkin was as we go into many of these Senate and House contests in 2022? The first thing that happened, there wasn't a traditional primary in Virginia this year.

    That meant there wasn't a long, drawn-out process where the president, former President Trump could come in and sort of make mischief. That's not likely to happen in 2022. Plus, many Republicans do believe that Donald Trump is the answer in their states, which may actually work in some states. It doesn't work in a state like Virginia.

    So the Trump piece, while it was critical when Trump was in the White House…

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Amy Walter:

    … using Trump as a lightning rod doesn't work when he's not there.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, James Carville, we heard some of your prescription for what Democrats need to do or not do going forward, as we look to the 2022 midterms.

    But what about President Biden is saying today, that if you will just pass Build Back Better, if you will just pass this infrastructure bill, people will be helped and that will make a difference? How much difference will that make?

  • James Carville:

    Well, I think it can make an enormous difference.

    And, by the way, it seems to me and a lot of other people that the virus numbers are really getting better. There's a ton of pent-up demand in this economy. I'm just not one of these people that thinks that we're necessarily doomed in 2022.

    We could have a roaring economy. This Build Back Better is going to give people a lot of confidence.And as long as we talk about things that are relevant to people and understand what they're going through in their lives and get rid of this left-wing nonsense, this claptrap I hear, I think we can be fine.

    But we have got to stop. We have got to get off of this. These people have got to understand they're not popular around the country. People don't like them. And they're voting because that's the only way that they can express themselves and how much they disagree with this.

    And, again, I go back. And it's not just Virginia and New Jersey. It's literally everywhere, up to and including Seattle. And there's a real lesson here. And it can be corrected. But they have got — these people have to understand, no one — you're not popular. People don't want to ride in the car with you. They don't want to ride next to you in the subway.

    You're annoying people. And they got to understand that. It's very important.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just to clarify, James Carville, before I go to Barbara Comstock, you're saying President Biden is not a drag for Democrats?

  • James Carville:

    Well, look, he probably was somewhat, but I don't think so.

    Youngkin never mentioned President Biden. He just let the Democrats sit there and light themselves up. And, literally, Terry just got caught up in it.

    But I don't — I think he can be — if they get this through, they have got a lot of good things in it, and they have got to sell it. If they don't — some Democrat — every Democrat wants to be a policy maven. No one wants to be a salesperson.

    Well, you got to get out there and sell your product and tell people what's in it and quit worrying about being in the policy shop or being some self-important bureaucrat. That's what I think.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Barbara Comstock, finally to you on what — if Biden, President Biden, is able to get this passed, is that going to help Democrats?

  • Fmr. Rep. Barbara Comstock:

    Well, I think their policies are what's unpopular right now.

    And Biden's numbers, as well as Terry's numbers, were underwater, whereas — and I would point out Trump's numbers were underwater in Virginia also. It was only Glenn Youngkin, who was focusing on policies, the economy, schools and public safety. His numbers were — he had good numbers. He was positive.

    And so this is the kind of thing that if Republicans get back to the issues and the popular issues we can focus on, have pleasant people doing it and get rid of the surly sore loser who hopefully is in the rear mirror now, they can do much better. And I think they will.

    And the problem for the Democrats is, they're going to continue this infighting. We had it with our Freedom Caucus and that hurt. But now everyone is united to get back in the game. So it's different for Republicans.

    And Democrats have already spent a year of this infighting, and I think it had an impact. And thank you very much, Congresswoman Jayapal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's the day after and a lot to chew over.

    Barbara Comstock, James Carville, Amy Walter, thank you, all three. We appreciate it.

  • Fmr. Rep. Barbara Comstock:

    Say hi to Mary, James.

  • James Carville:

    I will. I will, Barbara.

    Always good to see you, Amy.

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