Still smarting from their loss in the race for President in 2016, Democrats won dual victories in the race for Governor in Virginia and New Jersey, as they cast the election wins as a repudiation of President Donald Trump, arguing the results showed the voters weren’t pleased with the direction of the President and the Republican Party.
“A comprehensive Democratic victory from the statehouse to the courthouse,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), who immediately said it was a reaction to President Trump.
“Dear Donald. It really is all about you tonight. You cost the GOP a big loss in Virginia,” Connolly said on Twitter.
“I hope they keep running against football, statues, and MS-13, while we focus on real people's lives,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI).
“I am not sick of winning at all,” Schatz said, using a line associated with the President.
“News of our demise is greatly exaggerated!” tweeted Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY).
The victory of Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam over veteran GOP lobbyist Ed Gillespie wasn’t an electoral thrashing by any means – he was ahead by 9 points with most votes counted – that’s larger than the over 5 percent margin of victory for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016 – as Democrats hoped it was the big win that they had been waiting for to turn some national political momentum in their favor.
“If Republicans think things are bad tonight, wait until they ram through a giant tax cut for corporations and the super rich,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) of the GOP tax reform plan now before the Congress.
Using Twitter to comment from South Korea, President Trump pointed the finger of blame directly at Gillespie.
“Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for,” the President said.
But the numbers sent a different message to a sitting member of Congress from Virginia, who agreed with Democrats that the results on Tuesday were mainly a rejection of President Trump.
“I don't know how you get around that this was a referendum on the President,” Rep. Scott Taylor (R-VA) told reporters.
Taylor’s home turf in the Virginia Beach area was one of the few places to switch sides from 2016 to 2017, as it voted for Trump last year, and for the Democratic candidate for Governor this time.
Overall, there was ample evidence that Democratic voters were much more energized to get to the polls.
“This is a tidal wave,” said political analyst Dave Wasserman, as Democrats even had an outside chance of winning control of the House of Delegates in Virginia – they needed a gain of 17 seats to achieve that.
Democrats also won back the Governor’s chair in New Jersey, as Phil Murphy won over Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno – but that result had been expected for months, as the bad approval numbers of Gov. Chris Christie weighed down the GOP.
Among the Republicans defeated in the Virginia House of Delegates was Bob Marshall, a social conservative – he lost to the first openly transgender candidate to win a race for the state’s General Assembly, Danica Noem.
Democrats not only won the Governor’s race in Virginia, but also the elections for Lt. Governor and state Attorney General, and University of Virginia political expert Larry Sabato said the reason was clear.
“The bigger explanation is a backlash to Trump and Trumpism, pure and simple,” Sabato tweeted.
Why the big change between 2016 and 2017? Exit polls did not detect a big swing – in fact, the main exit poll done by the TV networks showed the exact same split in terms of white, black and Hispanic voters in Virginia.
If those numbers hold, then the increased Democratic margins – and their victories in local House of Delegate races – would be much more easily explained by extra turnout, and a more energized group of voters.