Minneapolis residents decisively defeated a progressive-backed amendment to overhaul the Police Department on Tuesday, putting the city in the middle of a political reckoning for Democrats as voters across the country rejected other left-leaning candidates and causes.

In Seattle, a Republican led in the city attorney race over a Democrat who had been an outspoken advocate of abolishing the Police Department. In Buffalo, N.Y., the Democratic mayor appeared to win as a write-in candidate after losing in the primary to a Democratic socialist party nominee who called for shifting some police department funding to mental health and homeless welfare calls. Voters in New York City overwhelmingly chose a moderate Democrat and former police captain Eric Adams as their next mayor.

At the same time, Republicans surged in Virginia and had a strong showing in deep-blue New Jersey, emboldening Minnesota conservatives who framed Tuesday's results as a bellwether in a nation frustrated by rising inflation, crime and the long tail of the pandemic.

"I hope that my colleagues recognize, especially the ones that come from deeply blue kind of urban districts, that that's great to represent the people the way you perhaps do in your districts, but to disregard districts like mine, and to disregard rural districts in this country, is a terrible disservice to the nation itself," DFL U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, who represents a suburban Minnesota district, said last week. "And a terrible recipe for electoral success."

Even as Republicans cheered Minneapolis residents for voting down the policing amendment, they foreshadowed that the issue isn't going away for Democrats in 2022. They effectively used the "defund" the police slogan as a blunt instrument in swing districts last fall — and plan to again.

"They are the party of 'defund the police' and the voters aren't going to forget that," said Minnesota U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, who is leading the House Republican campaign arm.

Democrats are struggling to decipher the message sent by voters who also approved sweeping rent control measures and largely rejected conservative attempts to take over school boards in the Twin Cities suburbs.

"It's a reminder that we're still a pretty divided country, and I don't think Democrats helped themselves by the endless wrangling over the major infrastructure bills in Washington," said Jeff Blodgett, a longtime DFL operative who served as ex-President Barack Obama's state director in Minnesota for two election cycles.

That message was echoed by a broad swath of Minnesota Democrats last week as they sifted through the election results. Opposition to ex-President Donald Trump held their disparate coalition together in 2020 long enough to elect Joe Biden and put the party in power in Washington, but it has frayed since then as factions argue about the party's agenda going forward.

The debate over the future of public safety in Minneapolis divided Minnesota Democrats, with prominent leaders such as Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota's U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith opposing the measure, while U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and Attorney General Keith Ellison actively campaigned for its passage.

Walz said state and local work around public safety and police reform has been underway for a long time and was not going to be resolved by the Minneapolis ballot question.

The former schoolteacher, who seeks a second term next fall, expects public safety and education to be top issues in the midterm election.

"People want to see work done, they want to see compromise, they want to see real results," Walz said.

Some prominent Minnesota Democrats pushed back about what Tuesday's results signify about 2022, including Ellison, who criticized Republicans for offering voters red herrings on policing and other issues.

He said Democrats should stand up for what they believe and not be put on the defensive by distractions offered by Republicans. The Minnesota Attorney General's Office is on the ballot in 2022, but Ellison has not officially said he's running again.

"Republicans accuse you of whatever thing that their pollster came up with last," said Ellison. "And then you spend your time trying to explain that, when what you really should be doing is saying that's nonsense, but let me tell you what does make sense."

Both progressives and moderates have expressed frustration that the Democratic Party hasn't been able to deliver on some key policy priorities. The failure of the policing ballot measure and opposition from top Democrats could depress turnout in populous, DFL-rich urban areas next fall, said Kenza Hadj-Moussa, head of public affairs with the progressive organizing group TakeAction Minnesota.

"Between ... maintaining the status quo, spreading misinformation and doubling down on what Republicans are going to say anyway, they've done pretty much nothing to get young people to get out, especially young people of color," she said, noting that key policy issues like student loan debt forgiveness and paid family leave policies could move the needle for many voters.

But battles for statewide office and control of the Legislature in Minnesota also come down to the suburbs, which helped deliver power to Democrats in the last two election cycles but have swung back and forth between parties.

Republicans in Virginia did better than anticipated in the suburbs by talking about "parental choice" and concerns over racial teachings in schools. In Minnesota, several slates of conservative candidates tried to take over school boards by opposing masking and challenging racial-equity policies.

Only a handful of those school board candidates won, and a majority of school referendums passed, signaling a different mood in Minnesota's suburbs, said DFL Party Chair Ken Martin. But he cautioned that the party still needs to take lessons from the frustrations that Republicans tapped into in Virginia and New Jersey. "People are voting their pocketbooks and they are voting their anxieties and we need to deliver for them," Martin said.

"There are some clear lessons to learn there about what voters are responding to right now. It would be foolish of us not to learn those."

Economic concerns coming out of the pandemic are front of mind for many voters and approval ratings tend to go down as inflation goes up, said Marissa Luna, executive director of the DFL-aligned political action committee Alliance for a Better Minnesota. But she said Walz has put Minnesota on the right track to rebound faster from COVID and its economic impacts than other Midwest states, and voters will take note of that headed into the midterms.

"They might be projecting confidence now looking at some of the election results last night from Virginia, but that was a very close race," Luna said of Republican candidates. "A lot can change in six months to a year from now."

Staff writer Hunter Woodall contributed to this report.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Buffalo mayoral candidate India Walton’s position on policing.