Opinion

The winners and losers of election night 2021

New York City night owls, police defunders, Trump, and more

Tuesday was a night of upsets, shoo-ins, nailbiters, and way too many cats. Here's our scorecard for the 2021 elections.

Winner: New York City night owls

The 110th mayor of New York City, Eric Adams, called it "almost silly" to suggest he shouldn't have spent the night partying in high-end nightclubs after his victory Tuesday evening. "This city does not go to sleep at 5 a.m.," Adams told NY1's Pat Kiernan on Wednesday morning, after soundly defeating his Republican opponent, avowed ailurophile Curtis Sliwa. "I'm going to be out visiting those hospital workers at 12 a.m. in the evening, I'm going to visit transit employees at 3, 4 a.m. in the morning." 

Adams added that he was "happy to be at Zero Bond" — a private social club that counts Tom Brady and Kim Kardashian among its members — "then I went over to Cipriani's as well, and I'm going to continue to help my nightlife."

With Adams' election, New York City ends an era of criticizing its mayor over being chauffeured 12 miles to work out and begins one of criticizing its mayor over illegally parking and driving down the sidewalk

Loser: Primary elections

When Buffalo's incumbent mayor, Byron Brown, lost his city's Democratic primary to socialist India Walton last June, Walton was expected to be all but a shoo-in on Election Day. But following "the most ambitious write-in campaign in recent memory," per Buffalo's WIVB, Brown appeared poised for victory come Wednesday morning. 

A moderate Democrat seeking his fifth mayoral term, Brown was backed in his race by the New York State Republican Party, which sent thousands of mailers encouraging the write-in campaign. Meanwhile, Walton was "not uniformly embraced by state [Democratic] leadership, as Gov. Kathy Hochul — a Buffalo native — and Jay S. Jacobs, the chairman of the New York State Democratic Committee, declined to endorse her," The New York Times writes.

Loser: Police defunders

In one of the closest-watched elections of the night, voters in Minneapolis shot down a measure to replace the police department with a Department of Public Safety. "If residents of the heavily Democratic city where George Floyd was murdered by former police officer Derek Chauvin won't back a radical reimagination of law enforcement, who will? Almost nobody," writes Joel Mathis for The Week. Indeed, these days "almost two-thirds of Americans now believe crime is a 'very big problem'" and "places like Austin, Texas — where voters on Tuesday rejected a measure to increase the budget of the local police department — are the exception, not the rule."

The pattern could be seen elsewhere in the country as well. Adams, the new mayor of New York City, is a former police captain, while Kansas City elected as its mayor Tyrone Garner, the retired deputy chief of the Kansas City, Kansas Police Department. Likewise in Seattle, "a Republican leads [the] race for City Attorney — the other candidate is a self-described police abolitionist — and [the city] looks poised to elect a mayor (a Democrat) who favors more police over one who voted to cut police spending," points out Insider columnist Josh Barro.

Winner: Candidates of color

A whole lot of historic "firsts" were elected on Tuesday evening, including:

Loser: The reconciliation bill?

Poor showings for Democrats in Virginia and New Jersey on Tuesday night could complicate passage of the reconciliation bill, which Democrats were "within striking distance" of finishing before the election, Politico writes. Now, though, there are "two possibilities: A) That the loss in Virginia will light a fire under Democrats, providing the urgency they needed to get Build Back Better over the finish line ... Or B) It triggers a whole new round of infighting, as progressives push to go bigger and moderates slimmer."

Though some predict Democrats will "circle the wagons" to push the legislation through, further quarreling between moderates and progressives could potentially complicate matters at a time when the party needs unity. "Democrats need to stop fighting each other and start delivering for voters," a Democratic strategist further told Politico. "If we don't, 2022 is going to be brutal."

Winner: Trump — but also not Trump

Speaking of Virginia, former President Donald Trump is already taking credit for Republican Glenn Youngkin's gubernatorial win there. 

But "if we forget about Trump and the history of the last five years, Youngkin's victory looks completely ordinary," Ryan Cooper explains at The Week. CNN adds that Youngkin "focused on his own brand and on issues that were top of mind for local voters, instead of on a Trump-centric or Trump-style campaign that relied on rotating grievances and personal pique." Indeed, savvy to the fact that Trump lost Virginia to Joe Biden by about 10 points in 2020, Youngkin delicately avoided both campaigning with Trump and alienating Trump's base. 

The result paid off in spades. As Politico reports, "Trump won rural Virginia 52-46 last year. Youngkin won it 64-36. Trump won non-college whites 62-38. Youngkin won those voters by a whopping 76-24. Youngkin's pivot to the center was successful, but his quiet fueling of the Trump base seemed to pay even bigger dividends."

Loser: The misinformation playbook

A campaign of misinformation is what led to Trump supporters violently storming the Capitol this past winter, encouraged by unfounded claims of fraud and conspiracy. But as this election night proved, and Mathis points out for The Week, Republicans don't need to lean on the misinformation playbook to win elections. 

Youngkin particularly took pains to distance himself from Capitol rioters: "It is weird and wrong to pledge allegiance to a flag connected to Jan. 6," he said of an incident at an event where Trump called in to endorse Youngkin. "As I have said many times before, the violence that occurred on Jan. 6 was sickening and wrong," Youngkin added.

Meanwhile, in Montana, Great Falls Mayor Bob Kelly (D) easily won re-election. Kelly supports the creation of a national heritage area in central Montana; the proposal, however, was plagued by a misinformation campaign that falsely claimed the designation would hurt farmers and landowners. Fred Burow, Kelly's challenger, "opposed the proposal and trumpeted disinformation about it," The New York Times reports. Despite — or perhaps because of — that, he lost.

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