Politics can be a game of expectations. This month, Democrats running in so-called “bellwether” races triggered worry from New Jersey to Honolulu.
For example, expectations were heaped on the Virginia race for governor — but Republican Glenn Youngkin beat former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a state President Joe Biden easily carried last year, and that Democrats have governed for most of this century.
Although not campaigning with Donald Trump, Youngkin didn’t deny the divisive ex-president’s appeal, basically saying he and Trump were in political agreement.
Instead of Democrats hoping to make the fall elections a referendum on Trump’s “big lie” falsehoods, Republicans showed how they could win by giving Trump a nod but not an enthusiastic embrace.
Al Hunt, former executive editor of Bloomberg News and former reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for The Wall Street Journal, wrote: “It fuels the sense that 2022 will be a Republican year.”
Former Hawaii Speaker of the House Joe Souki sent out an email blast saying, “Democrats need to wake up. They lost the Democrat Governor in Virginia … Two contributing factors, women votes and independents. Democrats alone cannot win, they need the moderates and independents.”
Democrats certainly won’t be sending out fundraising pleas based on last week’s elections.
Meanwhile, Hawaii Republicans have a new acting party chairperson: Lynn Finnegan, a former state House GOP leader, who agrees that 2022 gives the local GOP high expectations.
“We are one year out from the 2022 election and we have an unprecedented amount of prospects already interested in running for office,” she said in an email interview.
In a news release issued after the Democrats’ mainland stumble, Finnegan said Virginia voters “did not take the Democrat’s bait — imputing President Trump to sow division … Our party sees it as an opportunity to ride the Red Wave in Hawaii.”
A solid vote-getter in the Democratic Aiea-Moanalua Gardens district for eight years, Finnegan lost when she ran for lieutenant governor on a ticket with former Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona in 2010.
She now says the party with just five Republicans in the 76-member Hawaii Legislature, can grow.
“With great candidates and volunteers to build our grassroots activities, the Hawaii Republican Party will gain seats in 2022,” Finnegan said.
That optimism may be misplaced. University of Hawaii political analyst and director of the Public Policy Center, Colin Moore, acknowledges that while Virginia’s election night may have been a “bad night for Democrats and it should give reason for the GOP to be hopeful in many states, … not in Hawaii.”
While Hawaii’s elections are not until next year, Moore sees that in statewide races, the GOP is too weak to be a factor.
“We’d need to see a major realignment among local voters for a Republican to win,” Moore said in an interview.
The catch, he explained, is that in some areas, the local GOP could make gains.
“I do think it gives some hope to Republican candidates in certain legislative districts. The interesting thing to me about the Virginia results was that Democratic support fell in almost every demographic group.”
That same thinking was echoed by Amy Walter, publisher of the Cook Political Report, who noted in a post-election analysis that “Enthusiasm matters in elections. In VA, Youngkin got 84% of Trump’s 2020 vote, McAuliffe just 65% of Biden’s. In other words, Trump voters turned out at almost presidential level, McAuliffe’s at a little better than average.”
Hawaii elections rarely generate any sort of rousing enthusiasm — so for the GOP to win next year, expectations will need to match the inspiration that fires up their candidates and their issues.
Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays. Reach him at email@example.com.
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