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Body blow for Biden as voters in Virginia and New Jersey desert Democrats

Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters Less than a year after taking control of the White House and Congress, Democrats were reeling on Wednesday from a shocking defeat in Virginia and a too-close-to-call governor’s race in New Jersey as Joe Biden’s popularity sinks and his domestic agenda hangs in the balance.

In Virginia, a state that had shifted sharply left over the past decade and that Biden won by 10 points in 2020, Republican Glenn Youngkin, a political newcomer, defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe, the state’s former governor. And in New Jersey, the Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, was struggling to turn back a challenge from Republican Jack Ciattarelli, an unexpected turn of events in a state that is even more reliably Democratic.

“Together, we will change the trajectory of this commonwealth and, friends, we are going to start that transformation on day one. There is no time to waste,” Youngkin said, addressing jubilant supporters in the early hours of Wednesday.

Republicans’ resurgence after five years of stinging defeats during the Donald Trump era offers a stark warning for Democrats, who were already wary of next year’s midterm elections. Their wins have echoes of 2009, when Republican victories in Virginia and New Jersey presaged their stunning takeover of the House in the 2010 midterms.

“In a cycle like this, no Democrat is safe,” said Tom Emmer, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. On Wednesday, the group announced that it was expanding its list of Democratic targets for the 2022 midterms following Youngkin’s victory in Virginia.

Youngkin, a 54-year-old former business executive, delicately maneuvered to keep the former president at arm’s length while embracing many of Trump’s themes and tactics. He harnessed parents’ frustration over school closures and mask mandates while stoking culture war resentment over education and race.

McAuliffe, 64, offered a backward-facing message that sought to revive the backlash to Trump that powered Democratic gains in recent years. But the effort was in vain. Exit polls showed Biden was nearly as unpopular as Trump in Virginia, with Youngkin outperforming the former president in counties across the commonwealth.

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