The US now has new Governors-elect of New Jersey and Virginia, and these results also provide us with new data on where the Democratic and Republican parties currently stand in American politics.
Democrats Phil Murphy and Ralph Northam have won 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.
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.
Democrats’ redistricting hopes: 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.
The transgender community: It’s one state legislative race, but transgender candidate Danica Roem’s win for a House of Delegates seat in Virginia is huge symbolically. She defeated a social conservative Bob Marshall, a 26-year incumbent, and she did it by about 10 points. 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 Lt. Gov. 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.
Gillespie and GOP candidates & Trump: Trump sent this tweet shortly after Gillespie’s loss was called: “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!”
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.