Sweeping victories in last Tuesday’s elections provided a bracing tonic for Democrats. “If case there was any doubt,” tweeted former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau, “the Resistance is real.” Tuesday’s victories should buoy Democrats but not mislead them. The reaction to Trump is fierce, but not sufficient to consolidate a new ruling coalition that can make the changes we need.
Turnout in Virginia, which featured the marquee gubernatorial matchup on Election Day, was at presidential-year levels. Democrats, people of color, and self-described liberals came out in large numbers. Women voted Democratic by large margins. The Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Ralph Northam—a charismatically challenged, eminently decent, experienced, establishment figure—didn’t light that fire. Middle-class voters in the Virginia suburbs braved a driving rainstorm to deliver a stunning rebuke to Trump, and to the vile “Trumpism without Trump” campaign run by former Republican lobbyist Ed Gillespie.
Democrats won big down-ballot as well, capturing 15 seats in the House of Delegates and coming close to erasing the previous 32-seat Republican advantage in the state House completely. This represents the most sweeping shift in control of the state legislature since the Watergate era. Insurgents also won, including Democratic Socialist Lee Carter, who took out the Republican majority whip, and Danica Roem, the first transgender candidate to win a state legislative seat in the country.
Virginia was not alone. Democrats also took back the governorship in New Jersey, won full control in Washington State, and elected the first Democratic mayor of Manchester, New Hampshire. Charlotte, North Carolina, elected its first African-American female mayor. In Maine, voters overwhelmingly voted to extend Medicaid under Obamacare.
Pollsters increasingly see the Republican majority in the House as endangered. Fury at Trump has mobilized Democratic and independent voters. The absence of Trump on the ticket may depress Republican turnout. The Republican Congress is even less popular than Trump.
In some ways, the more interesting race occurred in New Jersey, where the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Philip Murphy, an irrepressible happy warrior, also won big as expected. Murphy is yet another former Goldman Sachs banker, but sought to rise above it. (Twenty-nine percent of voters said his Goldman Sachs background made them feel worse about him; only 8 percent said it made them feel better, and they were probably Republicans.)Murphy presented himself as a progressive champion. He endorsed a $15 minimum wage, the creation of a public bank, and investment in infrastructure. He called for legalization of pot, embraced unions, and supported making New Jersey a sanctuary state.