Democrats Notch Big Wins in Virginia, New Jersey

Tuesday delivered a string of high-profile victories for Democrats in gubernatorial races. 

Democrat Ralph Northam decisively won the Virginia governor’s race in what had become a nail-biter of a contest, defeating Republican Ed Gillespie in the election to replace outgoing Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Northam, currently Virginia’s lieutenant governor, held a comfortable lead in many voter opinion surveys until Gillespie launched a series of television ads attacking Northam on such issues as gang crime, immigration and preserving statues honoring Virginians when the Commonwealth and other southern states broke away from northern states during the 19th-century era American Civil War — tactics similar to those used by Donald Trump in his successful 2016 White House bid.

“Today, Virginians have answered, and have spoken — Virginia has told us to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry, and to end the politics that have torn this country apart,” Northam said in his victory speech. “We need to close the wounds that divide and bring unity to Virginia.”

Northam’s victory led a Democratic sweep of all statewide races in the Commonwealth, including the offices lieutenant governor and attorney general. The party also posted several upset legislative victories, winning 14 seats in the House of Delegates, just three seats shy of wresting control from Republicans. The Democratic victors included Danica Roem, who beat veteran lawmaker Robert Marshall to become the Commonwealth’s first openly transgender elected official. Marshall was known as a strong opponent of gay and lesbian rights.

Trump, who is on a 12-day five nation trip to Asia, vouched for Gillespie in a series of tweets early Tuesday. But that changed after Northam’s victory was apparent:

“Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for,” the president tweeted from South Korea. “Don’t forget, Republicans won 4 out of 4 House seats, and with the economy doing record numbers, we will continue to win, even bigger than before!”

In New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy prevailed as expected over Republican Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno in the race to replace outgoing Republican Governor Chris Christie. Guadagno was hurt by her association with Christie, a candidate for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, whose approval rating have hit a record low as he finishes his eight years in office. 

Murphy, who served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Germany, has touted a liberal agenda that includes raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, increasing taxes on millionaires, boosting funding for schools and legalizing marijuana.

Tuesday’s balloting provides an important early indication of how the electorate views President Trump, as the Republican and Democratic parties try to gain momentum before next year’s mid-term elections. The victories in New Jersey and Virginia, as well as other states and localities, will surely boost morale among Democrats still reeling over Trump’s upset win over Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential campaign.

Republicans were hoping wins will help soothe intra-party bickering between Trump and key congressional Republicans.

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