Voters in Virginia, New Jersey and other states gave President Trump a stark rebuke last Tuesday night, delivering two governorships to Democrats with multiple mayoral and state house seats as an added bonus.
Tuesday’s sweep is the first major electoral victory for Democrats in a long, painful year for the party since Trump’s stunning win last November. The biggest showings came from the Virginia and New Jersey governor’s races.
While Phil Murphy’s victory in New Jersey was no surprise thanks to outgoing Gov. Chris Christie’s unpopularity, the real shock came from Ralph Northam’s upset in Virginia’s close race over Republican candidate Ed Gillespie.
Northam won 53.9 percent of the vote compared to Gillespie’s 44.9 percent, according to the New York Times. While Gillespie took home the numbers in rural areas, Northam dominated in suburban districts and did well with moderate voters.
What’s telling is how Northam, a fairly uncharismatic candidate, managed to beat the more lively Gillespie so handily. He is a moderate who, despite moving left on some issues during the campaign, came out on top in a state that’s recently become embroiled with social issues ranging from racism and white supremacy to abortion and same-sex marriage.
Gillespie contrarily campaigned with the Trump handbook as his guide, playing up heated topics like immigration and Confederate monuments. He did make a point to distance himself from the president personally in a bid to win over establishment Republicans.
Trump, for his part, tweeted in support of Gillespie before the election. It wasn’t enough, and Northam’s victory now demonstrates Trump’s popularity and style can’t always translate to his candidates.
But Tuesday night’s surprises weren’t limited to just the governor’s races.
Democrats won more legislative contests in Virginia, including the election of America’s first openly transgender lawmaker. They also gained seats in the Georgia House of Representatives previously held by Republicans, and racked up victories in mayoral races all across the country.
All of this is to say Democrats have much to be excited about for both the near and long-term.
The slew of victories is sure to buoy morale after a year of misfires, special election losses and the lingering burn of Hillary Clinton’s presidential defeat. Down the road the impact is much bigger; Democrats now know voters aren’t fully satisfied with Trump and the GOP, meaning the 2018 midterms are more contested than ever.
While this doesn’t guarantee Democrats will take back the House of Representatives next year, it nonetheless will energize their base. And even if the House remains under GOP control, every seat they lose to Democrats makes meaningful Republican legislation harder to pass.
Theoretically, Democrats could begin a grassroots drive to turn out their voters in full, and they can use Tuesday’s victories as a rallying cry at a time when the party desperately needs unity. There is still a sharp divide between establishment Democrats and their base, something Donna Brazile didn’t help with her bombshells last week on the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
But between the Tuesday sweep and more Republicans announcing their retirements in 2018, Democrats can cultivate a wave of new anti-Trump candidates to rise up and fill those gaps. If Democrats are smart, they’ll work to push the DNC issues away from the public eye and focus their energy on winning as many House seats as possible.
If they do this, it boosts their agenda and can only be bad news for Trump. And any bad news for Trump is splendid news for Democrats.