Anti-Trump backlash? Democrats win big in Virginia, New Jersey

Democrats score 9-point margin of victory in Virginia, outperforming polls in bellwether state.

David Rosenberg,

Virginia Gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam and his wife Pam vote in Norfolk, Virginia
Virginia Gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam and his wife Pam vote in Norfolk, Virginia

Democrats scored two victories Tuesday in gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, reinvigorating the party after last year’s presidential election and a series of special election defeats.

In New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy, a 60-year-old political neophyte and ex-Wall Street executive, easily defeated Republican Kim Guadagno, 55% to 42.5%. The victory marks a pickup for Democrats, expanding the number of governorships held by the party from 15 to 16.

While New Jersey has become reliably Democratic at the national level, voting for Democrats in every presidential election since 1992 and giving Hillary Clinton a 14-point margin of victory, Republicans have been competitive in gubernatorial elections, twice defeating Democrats for the governorship, including a 22-point margin of victory for Republican Chris Christie in 2013.

The once-popular Christie, however, sank to historically low favorability ratings after the “Bridgegate” scandal revealed that members of his reelection campaign staff had closed lanes on the George Washington Bridge to punish the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, who had declined to endorse Christie for governor.

Tuesday’s other gubernatorial election, however, was far more closely watched by political observers for its implications on next year’s midterm elections.

Virginia, bellwether state which has become competitive in presidential, senate, and gubernatorial elections, went for Clinton last year, 49% to 44%. In 2014, Republican Ed Gillespie defied predictions showing an easy Democratic victory, losing to Mark Warner by just eight-tenths of a percent.

Polls had showed a tight race going into Tuesday’s election in Virginia, with the RealClearPolitics average of polls showing Democrat Ralph Northam with a 3.3-point advantage, within the margin of error.

In fact, Northam easily defeated Ed Gillepsie, sweeping the race with a 9-point margin of victory.

Initial analysis of the results indicates that high turnout resulting from Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts helped Northam achieve the nearly double-digit margin over Gillespie, outperforming Clinton in last year’s presidential race.

Democrats were quick to declare Northam’s win a sign the tide had turned for the party, saying that President Donald Trump’s low approval rating – averaging just 38.7% according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls – had mobilized the opposition.

"The Democratic Party is back, my friends," said Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez.

Others pointed to Democratic pick-ups in the Georgia state legislature in traditionally Republican districts as proof that Tuesday’s elections constituted an anti-Trump wave.

President Trump, meanwhile, denied the elections were referendum on his presidency, and noted in a tweet Wednesday morning that Republicans had won all four US House seats up for grabs on Tuesday.

“Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for. Don’t forget, Republicans won 4 out of 4 House seats, and with the economy doing record numbers, we will continue to win, even bigger than before!”

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