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‘They’re sick of masks’: Democratic governors fight Covid fatigue

Democratic governors were already barreling straight into a perilous midterm election. But a building winter Covid surge is putting many of them in a greater bind.

The party’s defeat last month in Virginia — and closer-than-expected victory in New Jersey — has many Democrats searching for an off-ramp to the pandemic that allows them to sell a brighter future to voters next November.

But, at the same time, attendees here at the Democratic Governors Association’s winter meeting were nodding to voters’ frustrations with the enduring pandemic and its accompanying hardships, a potentially more contagious variant is emerging, and some blue states have reimposed mask mandates going into the holidays.

Asked in an interview about his November close call, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy attributed it to “a lot of folks who are frustrated, is my guess.”

In his most candid assessment of his 3-point victory to date, Murphy said some New Jerseyans “feel like government is not connecting with them. They’re sick of masks, being told what to do in terms of vaccines, probably not thrilled with what they sense is going on in Washington, they may have lost a job or a business that went bust — or a loved one, worse yet.”

Murphy — who, it was announced here, will lead the DGA in 2023 — said that his political operation would be launching a series of focus groups in the coming week to draw deeper lessons on his narrow victory in November.

For many Democrats, the answer is already apparent: The start of the pandemic may have sent governors’ approval ratings shooting through the roof, but its durability is an existential threat to their power across the map, from traditional battleground states to even reliably Democratic territory like Virginia and New Jersey.

According to interviews with a half-dozen Democratic governors at and leading up to the conference, along with conversations with senior party aides and consultants, the party needs to find a message that acknowledges voters’ exasperation with the virus and its economic and societal impacts.

“I think we have to recognize and acknowledge that families have had a tough time over the last two years, both health-wise — whether it is or isn’t from Covid, whether it’s mental health — and economically,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, the new chair of the DGA, told reporters.


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