The last time Democrats won all three of those contests was in 1989.
On Tuesday, one year after the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, Democrats won all the big races in New Jersey, Virginia, and New York—along with hundreds of other key contests nationwide—on one of the best days for the party in a number of years. The victories came by wider-than-expected margins, as voters sent a powerful signal that President Donald Trump and his policies are a burden rather than a benefit for Republican contenders at the state and local levels.
“Tonight was the beginning of a wave,” announced Joe Dinkin of the Working Families Party, which was active in contests across the country. “The results of today’s elections are a massive repudiation of Donald Trump, as voters turned out in force at the ballot box to elect progressives and defeat Republicans throughout the country.”
In New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy grabbed the governorship back for his party, ending eight years of bombast and scandal under Republican Chris Christie. Murphy’s 56-42 finish reversed the numbers Christie enjoyed when he secured reelection four years ago and began preparing for what would be a failed presidential bid.
In Virginia, Democrats retained the governorship—with an easier-than-expected 54-45 victory for Ralph Northam over the Trump-echoing campaign of Republican Ed Gillespie. Trump tweeted enthusiastically on Gillespie’s behalf before the voting, only to turn on his fellow Republican after the dismal results were announced—griping in a bitter post-election tweet that Gillespie did not sufficiently “embrace me.”
Democrats also won the other two statewide elections in Virginia—for lieutenant governor and attorney general. And they picked up seats in the state House of Delegates, giving the party a boost in its efforts to take charge of the key legislative chamber. (A number of races remained unsettled late Tuesday night. But the Democrats had already flipped at least 13 seats, with wins for candidates such as Danica Roem, who defeated a conservative Republican incumbent and became the first openly transgender state legislator in the United States.)
How much of a factor was Trump? In exit polling from Virginia, the number of voters who said they were motivated by a desire to oppose the president was double that of the number of voters who said they were motivated by a desire to support the president. The results pointed to “a backlash to Trump and Trumpism, pure and simple,” explained veteran election analyst Larry Sabato.
Both New Jersey and Virginia saw a notable shift away from the Republicans among suburban voters, as well as a boost in youth turnout that benefited the Democrats. Democrats also surged in New York’s suburbs, winning powerful executive posts in Nassau and Westchester counties. And in a special election in a suburban district in Near Seattle, Democrats picked up a Washington State Senate seat that had previously been held by a Republican—giving the party control of the legislative chamber and, with that, full control of state government.
Democrats won most big-city mayoral races, including the one in New York City, where Bill de Blasio was grabbing 67 percent of the vote in his bid for a second term. The party’s candidates also won in smaller cities, like Hoboken, New Jersey, where the new mayor, Ravinder Bhalla, a Sikh attorney, declared during the campaign: “I’m everything that Trump hates. A brown man wearing a Turban, and a proud American with the know-how to stop his assault on our country’s values.”
Democrats did not win every contest on Tuesday night. For instance, a special election in Utah kept an open US House seat in Republican hands.
Yet Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez had every reason to be excited, and he showed it by declaring that “Tonight’s success is just the beginning.”
Perez is a realist. He knows that the 2018 elections for control of the US House and the US Senate will be tough, as will fights to regain lost ground in the states. Because of gerrymandering, money in politics and voter suppression, Democrats will face plenty of challenges next year.
But the party that had so little to celebrate following the critical election of 2016 had much to celebrate following the critical election of 2017.
Noting that the president has been traveling in Asia, Perez declared: “The America that Donald Trump comes back to in a few days is far different than the America he left. It’s an America, where we are regaining our values.”