Democratic concerns about President Joe Biden’s flagging approval ratings, slow-moving agenda and struggles to sell his accomplishments have burst into public view as candidates, party officials and strategists worry that missteps that have led to a dead heat in the Virginia governor’s race could foretell trouble in next year’s midterm elections.

Fear of a defeat that could echo in 2022 is gripping the party as Republicans seek to capitalize on Biden’s unpopularity and on rising anxieties among Americans about the pandemic, immigration, inflation and supply-chain bottlenecks. The GOP also is opening new culture disputes over issues such as education, a move that polls show is gaining traction with voters.

A year after Biden defeated Donald Trump and set the stage for Democrats’ takeover of the federal government, GOP officials are voicing more confidence than their Democratic counterparts about the overall terrain on which contests for Congress and statehouses will be fought. The first major test comes Tuesday in Virginia, where Democrats’ nine-year statewide winning streak is at risk as Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a former governor, seeks a second term against a relentless campaign by Republican Glenn Youngkin in a state Biden won easily in 2020.