Democrats are waking up this morning, one year after Trump’s election, feeling ecstatic. They have reason to celebrate. They swept the governor’s races in New Jersey and Virginia and won a slew of down ballot races across the country. In short, yesterday was a blue wave, one that might be an early indication of how 2018 will go.
The biggest headline is that Democrat Ralph Northam cruised to victory over Republican Ed Gillespie for the VA governor’s race. Over the last few weeks, this race tightened, but current results show that Northam beat Gillespie by about 8 percentage points, more than anyone expected. This race was given so much national attention because over the last month, Gillespie ran a very Trump-like campaign, accusing Northam of being soft on immigration. Gillespie even brought up the NFL/kneeling issue. Last night, Trump tweeted that Gillespie did not embrace him, and Breitbart accused Gillespie of being an establishment Republican. While Gillespie may have been that in the past, the campaign he ran was Trump-like, and it failed. This should make Republicans consider how they run in 2018, especially with the House now in play, based on the wave of GOP incumbent retirements, many in swing districts, and Trump’s toxic poll numbers.
Even more impressive is the number of VA State Assembly seats the Dems flipped last night, the biggest gain in over 100 years for the party. When the dust settles and everything is counted, the Dems very well may have control of the State Assembly, or inch close enough to ensure victory in 2020. Their gains last night prove that Dems should compete in EVERY race, even in rural pockets of the country. Furthermore, the VA races were so important because it will allow the Dems to undo the gerrymandering in VA after 2020.
In NJ, Democrat Phil Murphy easily won the governor’s race and will succeed Republican Chris Christie. Murphy was always the favorite in this race, but it should be noted that he ran on a rather progressive platform, including raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and pushing for tighter gun control laws. In addition, his victory gives the Dems full control of the state government.
Here are some other races of note from last night: Maine approved a ballot measure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. VA elected its first openly trans state lawmaker yesterday, Danica Roem. She unseated Republican Bob Marshall, who pushed a bathroom bill similar to the one in NC. Transgender activist Andrea Jenkins was elected to the Minneapolis City Council, becoming the first openly trans African American woman elected to the city council of a major U.S. city. Democrat Justin Fairfax was elected VA’s next Lt. Gov, and he is only the second African American to win statewide office in VA. NJ elected Shelia Oliver as its first African American Lt. Gov. Democrat Vi Lyes was elected as Charlotte, NC’s first African American mayor. I could go on and on, but this is a brief snapshot of last night. This very much looks like a rebuke of Trump’s white nationalism.
In my state of PA, there was good news for Dems, too. Democratic Supreme Court Justice Debra Todd was retained, meaning Dems will keep the majority on the state Supreme Court, and she will become the first female PA Supreme Court Chief Justice in a few centuries, yes centuries. Philly elected an uber progressive DA in Larry Krasner. Last but not least, in my county, Lackawanna County, voters elected the first Democratic DA since the Nixon administration. While Dems have always swept the county row offices here, they’ve always failed to win the DA race. Mark Powell’s election changed that.
As a political junkie, I’m now paying careful attention to the Senate race in Alabama, Jeff Sessions’ former seat. Weeks ago, I didn’t think it would be possible that a Democrat could win that deep-red seat, but recent polling has Democrat Doug Jones pulling even with far-right candidate Roy Moore. The DNC should invest money into that race, as they did with the VA governor’s race. They should also compete in the TX and AZ Senate races next year because what was once out of reach is no longer out of reach. Last night proved that, especially in the VA State Assembly.
I’m also paying close attention to 2020 and Terry McAuliffe. He has reason to be ecstatic that Northam, his Lt. Gov., won the race to succeed him in VA. It will only raise his national profile, and it is likely that he was already considering running for the president in the Dem primary. He will probably make a case that as governor, he worked to protect gay rights and expand voting rights. That will play well with the base. He is also from a state that Dems need to win in 2020.
Heading into 2018, the Democratic Party needs to formulate a concise message, especially for some of the bigger Senate races. They can’t just be anti-Trump. They still need to counter Trump’s faux-populism with a clearer economic message. They have time to do so. That said, Paul Ryan should be especially worried. While the Democrats path to the Senate majority is much harder, the House is now within reach, especially as more and more Republicans in swing districts announce that they’re not seeking re-election. Last night was a blue wave. Next year could be a blue tsunami.