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Dems’ wins in Virginia, New Jersey and NYC are meaningful if not ‘harbingers’

Democrats will surely hail election night as evidence of momentum, and perhaps 2018 will back that up. But it will mean relatively little unless and until they do.

Virginia Democratic candidate for governor Ralph Northam speaking at his election night victory party.
REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

In addition to Minneapolis and St. Paul (which are covered elsewhere on MinnPost) elections were held last night in two states and one big city plus a special U.S. House election. The results were mostly good, maybe even very good, for Democrats.

My previous post already warned against the tendency of political junkies to treat these few off-year elections as “harbingers” of results to come in the big even-numbered year elections. But they are more meaningful than all the polls being run because at least in Virginia, New Jersey and New York City the winning governors and mayor actually won a four-year term, and all three were Democrats.

(The special House election, to fill the unexpired portion of a U.S. House term created by the resignation of the retiring Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, led to the easy election of Provo Mayor John Curtis, a conservative Republican.)

The re-election of a Democratic mayor in New York (Bill de Blasio) and a Republican in Utah are so predictable they are not exactly news of partisan importance. The governorships of Virginia and New Jersey are a different story as both are more or less swing states. Those were the two marquee matchups of the evening, and Democrats won both.

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In New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy waltzed to a solid 56-42 percent victory, which had long been predicted by the polls. A Wall Street player and former U.S. ambassador to Germany, Murphy was making his first run for elective office. He defeated Republican Kim Guadagno, who had been New Jersey’s secretary of state and lieutenant governor. If there’s any harbinger effect here, it might be that Democrat Murphy replaces Republican Gov. Chris Christie, but Christie had been extremely unpopular of late. New Jersey might called a swing state, but it’s pretty blue.

In the Virginia race for governor, Democratic Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam, a physician by profession with a strong résumé and soft-spoken style, cruised to a somewhat surprising 54-45 percent victory over former Republican National Committee Chair Ed Gillespie.

Northam succeeds retiring Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, so Northam’s win doesn’t represent a pickup for the Dems. Virginia, thanks to the growth of the D.C. suburbs, has become the bluest of the southern states, and the only thing that might make Northam’s margin surprising is that some recent polls had suggested Gillespie was making a late surge.  

Some will also spin the Virginia result as a rejection of Trumpism, but that’s old news in Virginia, which Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by 50-44 percent. Trump’s favorability ratings in the state have been very unfavorable (recently 60 unfavorable, 34 percent favorable).

Democrats will surely hail the night as evidence of momentum, and perhaps 2018 will back that up. But it will mean relatively little unless and until they do.