By Andrew Kelly
If the Republican National Committee isn’t freaking out right now, then it must be a vacation day at their office. No matter how you put it, the pre-2018 elections held last night were a boon to the Democrats in an era of steadily increasing anti-Trump sentiment. While Democrats have so far been very good at beating the number of voters in special elections compared to their turnout in 2016, they have yet to pose compelling victories at the federal level. That was until Tuesday, November 7th, where not only did former US Ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy deal a final blow to heavily unpopular governor Chris Christie, winning the race for governor in a landslide that surprised no one at all, but Virginia Lieutenant governor Ralph Northam also defeated Republican nominee Ed Gillespie by a 9 percentage point landslide. While many polling organizations and analysts predicted the election to go to Northam, not even the most liberal of newspapers and pundits predicted that the Governor Elect would wipe the floor with Gillespie in the way he did on election night.
Exit polls conducted in the wake of the Virginia elections also shined some light on how Northam pulled this off, but also on what the Democrats should focus their messaging on in the road to 2018. For starters, 57 percent of Virginia voters did not approve of President Trump. And the GOP’s stunts with Obamacare repeal didn’t appear to do them any favors in Virginia, with 39 percent (or the majority) of Virginia voters saying healthcare was the deciding factor in their vote, with 77 percent of these respondents having voted for Northam. And 69 percent of voters aged 18 to 25 voted for Northam, compared to just 54 percent of Virginia voters the same age who cast their vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
In short, Democrats would be wise to focus on bread and butter issues leading into 2018. It’s also worth noting that Northam, in the grand scheme of the Democratic tent, is quite moderate in comparison to someone like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. Compare this to Ed Gillespie, who ran on promises to keep up confederate statues and had good things said about him by Breitbart, the far right news source chaired by former Trump advisor and Stephen Bannon. If there’s one thing the Democrats can learn from Virginia, it’s that in states where they are relying on wealthy suburban voters such as Virginia, it’s good to run soft spoken moderates like Northam, especially when the Republican voter base seems determined to run animatronic Donald Trump clones in every race nationwide. The results of the Virginia election should provide a picture into upcoming races in states like Arizona, where it’s entirely possible that both senate seats will be vacated following Jeff Flake’s retirement and John McCain’s brain cancer diagnosis.
While Democrats may have a tough road ahead to taking back a majority in the House and defending their 10 venerable Senate incumbents, the road ahead for the Democrats looks a lot better now than it did on January 20th of this year. It’ll be interesting to see if the Democrats can build on this momentum or whether it’ll flounder before the Republican PAC Dollars.