WASHINGTON — Democrats swept governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey on Tuesday and made significant gains elsewhere in off-year elections, a signal of voter disenchantment with President Donald Trump.
Pundits, pollsters, and media figures weighed whether the results were in any way a bellwether on Trump’s tenure so far or GOP control of the federal government.
Northam, an Army medic in the first gulf war who is the state’s lieutenant governor, came into the race with a significant lead, but it has narrowed in the waning weeks of the campaign, as Republican Ed Gillespie has hammered him on issues like crime and immigration. Northam ended up defeating Gillespie by nine percentage points, far more than expected.
Gillespie, a lobbyist and the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, distanced himself from Trump but ran a campaign that had shades of Trump’s message. He ran a combative series of campaign ads, even hitting Northam on one of Trump’s culturally divisive issues, the retention of Confederate statues. That issue gained traction after the clash of white supremacists and counter protesters in Charlottesville, Va., in August, over the city’s planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.
Speaking to supporters on Tuesday evening, Northam called for the state to “close the wounds” of division, and added, “The Virginia way is to work together to get results.”
Northam’s victory was a sign that moderate and progressive wings of the party could put differences aside and turn out in an off-year race. In the days leading up to the election, there had been consternation that Democrats were not united, even a year after the bruising defeat of Hillary Clinton, and seemed destined to fight over what led to her loss.
Despite the enduring divisions, though, Democrats had the advantage of a common foe — Trump.
Democrats also swept Virginia’s other statewide offices, as Mark Herring was re-elected as attorney general and Justin Fairfax was elected lieutenant governor. They had a shot at picking up at least 17 seats in the House of Delegates, enough to win control.
Trump weighed in early on Tuesday, tweeting his support for Gillespie and bashing Northam. “Ralph Northam will allow crime to be rampant in Virginia. He’s weak on crime, weak on our GREAT VETS, Anti-Second Amendment and has been horrible on Virginia economy.” He urged voters to support Gillespie, and also recorded a robocall.
After Northam’s victory, Trump tweeted blame at Gillespie, writing that he “worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for.”
In New Jersey, Murphy’s projected win over Republican Kim Guadagno, the lieutenant governor, was believed to be aided by the unpopularity of the state’s current governor, Chris Christie. Christie’s approval rating never recovered since a bridge closing scandal that unfolded in 2014, and it further eroded after he endorsed Trump for president, a contrast to the heavily blue state. Murphy held a wide lead throughout the race, and his win was expected.
In New York City, Bill de Blasio easily won another term as mayor over Nicole Malliotakis, a state assemblywoman, who was his Republican challenger.
Democrats were poised to also make significant gains in Virginia’s House of Delegates. Danica Roem defeated an incumbent Republican, Bob Marshall, to become the first transgender individual elected to the state legislature and perhaps the first elected to a statehouse in the country. Marshall was a social conservative who earlier this year introduced a state “bathroom” bill to restrict access to transgender individuals.
Another state legislative candidate, TV reporter Chris Hurst, also defeated a Republican incumbent, Joseph Yost. Hurst was the boyfriend of Alison Parker, a news anchor for WDBJ-TV in Roanoke who was killed when a disgruntled employee shot her and a cameraman during a live broadcast in 2015. Hurst ran in favor of gun control against an opponent backed by the National Rifle Association.
Democrats also made gains in Georgia and New Hampshire legislatures, and also were likely to win control of the state legislature in Washington. If so, that would mean that Democrats control all of the state legislatures on the West Coast.
“A resounding defeat tonight for President Trump,” former Vice President Joseph Biden wrote in a tweet. “Voters around the country rejected the ugly politics we have seen this past year. Instead, they chose candidates who unite and inspire us.”