US elections: Winners and losers as Democrats take New Jersey and Virginia

Opposition jubilant after bad night for President and Trumpian nationalism

Aaron Blake
Wednesday 08 November 2017 09:38 GMT
Democratic candidate for governor Ralph Northam speaks after his election night victory at the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax
Democratic candidate for governor Ralph Northam speaks after his election night victory at the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

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Louise Thomas

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We now have new governors-elect of New Jersey and Virginia - along with a whole bunch of new data on where the Democratic and Republican parties currently stand in American politics.

Election Day 2017 is just about in the books, with Democrats Phil Murphy and Ralph Northam winning the governor's mansions in New Jersey and Virginia, respectively. The latter won the biggest and most closely watched race of the night, giving Democrats a shot in the arm after a tough electoral year.

Below, we break down the winners and losers.


Democrats' morale: It's become clear that Democrats have the momentum across the country. That's apparent most notably in special elections, where they've very often beaten their 2016 presidential election performance, and also on the generic congressional ballot, where they lead in a few recent polls by double digits.

But they've thus far been unable to win the big one, and that has led to plenty of grumbling about their ability to actually win when it counts. Their loss in a special congressional election in Georgia was particularly painful, given they invested tens of millions of dollars in a conservative-leaning suburban Atlanta district but still did no better than Hillary Clinton did there in 2016. Northam's win in Virginia should give Democrats confidence that they aren't totally feckless with the spotlight of the political world upon them.

And as the night progresses, it's looking like it will be even better than they might have hoped.

Democrats' redistricting hopes: After the 2016 election, The Fix's Amber Phillips and I spotlighted seven governors' races in the coming years that would be huge for Democrats' ability to prevent another drubbing in redistricting after the 2020 Census. Top of that list was Virginia.

Basically, Democrats in many swing states are in such rough shape in their state legislatures that they need to win the governor's mansion to prevent the GOP from drawing their next state legislative and congressional maps. That places a premium on these races if Democrats want to have a good shot at winning back the House majority any time soon. One down, six to go.

Oh, and Democrats also put a huge dent in the GOP's big advantage in the Virginia House of Delegates. It even looked like they might somehow take the majority — something that seemed unthinkable.

The transgender community: It's one state legislative race, but transgender candidate Danica Roem's, Democrat, win for a House of Delegates seat in Virginia is huge symbolically. She defeated a social conservative icon in Del. Bob Marshall, R, a 26-year incumbent, and she did it by about 10 points. Oh, and in doing so, she becomes the first openly transgender candidate elected to a state legislature in American history.


Trump-style nationalism: Both Republican gubernatorial nominees — former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie in Virginia and Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno in New Jersey — ran with a version of Trump's nationalistic, often dark anti-illegal immigration message. And neither saw it pay off. Gillespie's use of the strategy was particularly jarring, given he is basically the very definition of the kind of establishment Republican who has eschewed that kind of approach.

For a time, it seemed that the strategy might be helping Gillespie close the gap, but it doesn't seem to have allowed him to close the gap much at all. And the idea that this is a way forward for the GOP in winning elections in swing states like Virginia was certainly dealt a setback.

In some ways, of course, that might be reassuring to the GOP establishment that worries about the short-term gains and long-term problems this strategy might create.

Gillespie and GOP candidates who don't bear-hug Trump

Trump sent this tweet shortly after Gillespie's loss was called by the AP: Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for. Don't forget, Republicans won four out of four House seats, and with the economy doing record numbers, we will continue to win, even bigger than before!

Trump is taking some liberties here. As mentioned above, Gillespie did embrace some of Trump's agenda, even if he didn't exactly say he loved Trump. Trump also cut a robocall for Gillespie that went out on Election Day. And the idea that he just needed to bear-hug Trump a little more doesn't really hold up given he lost by a large margin.

But think about what this says to other Republicans who may be on the fence about how to handle Trump in their races. Trump just threw Gillespie under the bus, and within minutes of Gillespie's loss. Trump — with some help from his former top aide Stephen Bannon — seem to be quite willing to attack Republicans who don't toe their line, and that could force some Republicans into an uneasy choice.

Chris Christie: It may not be terribly surprising, given the overwhelming polling evidence that already showed New Jersey hates its two-term, outgoing governor, but the numbers Tuesday in the Garden State were damning. About half of voters said that their view of Christie predisposed them against Guadagno in her steep uphill battle to succeed him.

For comparison's sake, only about one-third of Virginians said Trump made them less likely to support Gillespie. The number who said Christie made them more likely to back Guadagno was in the single digits. We're a long way from Christie's 22-point reelection win just four short years ago.

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