On the eve of his electionversary, voters seized the first electoral opportunity they’ve had to send a message to Donald Trump and the mostly white, mostly male Republican legislators empowered by his elevation to the presidency. In races all across the country, they voted to defeat candidates and replace incumbents who share the president’s divisive, retrograde views on race and gender, and his positions on guns, health care and reproductive rights.
In Virginia, Democrat Ralph Northam won a decisive, 8.5-point victory over Republican Ed Gillespie in a closely watched race for governor. Northam’s victory ensures Democrats will be in control of the state’s redistricting process in 2020, which is expected to have far-reaching consequences on both Congressional and legislative maps, not to mention future national contests. (Gillespie, one of the architects of the Republicans’ devastatingly effective gerrymandering operation, REDMAP, was a fierce critic of Democratic efforts to expand voting rights in Virginia.)
Gillespie’s resounding defeat served a double purpose, demonstrating for Republicans just how limited the appeal of Trump’s message is, even when Trump himself is removed from the equation. Gillespie twisted himself in knots trying to appeal to Trump voters without alienating more moderate conservatives. In practice, that meant personally distancing himself from the president while retaining Trump’s full-throated support and running on a Trumpian platform that defended Confederate monuments, vilified kneeling NFL players and tied his rival to the violent gang MS-13. (Trump, who stumped for Gillespie on Twitter, chalked up his loss up the fact that the Republican “worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for.”)
In a rebuke to Trump’s tacit support of the “very fine” white supremacists who marched on Charlottesville earlier this year, Virginia voters made Justin Fairfax the second African-American ever elected to statewide office. Fairfax soundly defeated staunchly Pro-Trump Republican Jill Vogel. Progressive Democrat Mark Herring, who refused to defend Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage, was easily re-elected too, beating Republican John Adams, who shared Trump’s views on guns and access to contraceptives.
Even more impressively, down-ballot Democrats in Virginia staged a surprise campaign to reclaim the Virginia House of Delegates for the first time in almost two decades. They gained at least 14 seats, with returns from an additional five races still being counted to determine control of the chamber. Democratic Socialist Lee Carter unseated incumbent Majority Whip Jackson Miller. (Lee was one of 15 Democratic Socialists who won elections on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number of DSA office holders nationwide.) Danica Roem soundly defeated 13-term incumbent Robert G. Marshall, author of the state’s bathroom bill; Roem will become the first openly transgender state legislator in the country when she’s sworn in in January. Democrats Hala Ayala and Elizabeth Guzman became the first two Latinas elected to the House, while Kathy Tran became the first Asian-American woman.
In New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy easily dispatched Chris Christie’s deputy Kim Guadagno. Confederate-flag-patch-sporting freeholder John Carman, who asked mockingly if protestors would be back from the Women’s March in time to “cook dinner,” was ousted from office by Ashley Bennett, a black woman and first-time candidate inspired to run by his sexist comments. Ravi Bhalla became Hoboken’s first-ever Sikh mayor. In Edison, New Jersey, Jerry Shi and Falguni Patel were elected to the school board, in spite of a racist mailer that called on voters to “Make Edison Great Again” by stopping “the Chinese and Indians” from “taking over our town.”
In Maine, voters overwhelming approved an expansion of Medicaid in a sharp rebuke of Republican governor and early Trump supporter Paul LePage, who vetoed the legislation no less than five times. (LePage vowed Wednesday to continue blocking the expansion.) In Washington state, Democrats gained control of all three branches of government on Tuesday. Gov. Jay Inslee says he’ll take advantage of Democratic control to pass a carbon tax – Washington, Inslee promised, “will be a bell in the night, showing hope for the country, rejecting the Trump agenda of denying climate science.”