What a difference a day makes. Last week, reporters were bemoaning the “disarray” in the Democratic Party. Now, suddenly, after the results of Nov. 7, reporters are celebrating the amazing “rebirth” of the Democratic Party.
Indeed, the breadth and depth of gains made by Democrats on Tuesday is nothing less than stunning – not just in the number of races they won, from city council to mayor, from state legislature to governor, but in the historic range of candidates elected. Together these victories represent the total repudiation of the politics, policies and person of Donald Trump.
The prize, of course, was Ralph Northam’s election as governor of Virginia. No matter what else happened on Tuesday, the loss of Virginia would have been a gut punch to Democrats. The race was considered close all along. But Northam didn’t just defeat Republican Ed Gillespie; he crushed him.
Hillary Clinton carried Virginia in 2016 by 5 points. Northam won by 9 points, 53 percent to 45 percent, thanks to a surge in grass-roots activity. Voter turnout in Virginia was up 16 percent over 2013, the last gubernatorial election. In Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia, it was up 31 percent. Gov. Terry McAuliffe carried Loudon County by 5 points in 2013; Northam won it by 20 points. And over one-third of Virginia voters said they came out in order to cast a vote not for Ralph Northam, but against Donald Trump.
But Virginians didn’t just elect a new Democratic governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, they reversed the make-up of the House of Delegates. As of this writing, in what used to be a Republican stronghold, 66-34, Democrats now hold 49 seats and Republicans 47, with the outcome of four races still to be determined. Democrats elected at least 15 new members, including the state’s first transgender legislator, the first two Latinas and the first Asian-American woman.
Just north of Virginia, Democrats scored two less surprising big wins: electing Phil Murphy New Jersey’s new governor and handing Bill de Blasio an easy win for a second term as mayor of New York City. But, outside of those three big races, it’s the results of an array of down-ballot races that show just how unpopular Donald Trump is and just how strong the Democratic Party has bounced back.
Tuesday’s down-ballot winners represent America at its best: all the people Donald Trump doesn’t like, starting with people of color. In Charlotte, North Carolina, Vi Lyles became the first African-American woman mayor. Melvin Carter’s the new first African-American mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota. Hoboken, New Jersey, picked Ravinder Bhalla, as New Jersey’s first Sikh mayor. And, defying Trump’s hatred of all immigrants, Helena, Montana, chose Wilmot Collins, an African-American refugee from Liberia, as mayor.
Women scored big on Tuesday. Elected to the Virginia House of Delegates were the first two Latinas and first Asian-American woman, Kathy Tran. Michelle Kaufusi became the first female mayor of Provo, Utah. With a big win by Manka Dhingra in Washington state, Democrats won control of the State Senate and established a “Blue Wall” – Democratic governor and control of both houses of the state legislature – in all three Pacific Coast states.
Nov. 7 was an especially good night for LGBTQ Americans. Danica Roem became the first transgender American in the Virginia House of Delegates. Minneapolis elected two transgender members to its city council. Jenny Durkan is the new lesbian mayor of Seattle and Zachary DeWolf, the first gay member of the city’s school board. And with the election of two new members, the entire Palm Springs, California, city council is now gay.
And the most exciting aspect of such sweeping political victories is that they were engineered not from the top down, but from the bottom up. From coast to coast, these were grass-roots campaigns, inspired and organized by activists appalled by the election of Donald Trump and determined to fight back. That’s where the political energy is today, and that’s where it will remain in 2018. Republicans beware.
Make no mistake about it. Nov. 7 was a referendum on Donald Trump: the first gubernatorial races since he became president, the first time Americans nationwide had a chance to register their approval or disapproval, the first test of his presidency. And he failed it big-time.
The only disappointment is the timing. If only congressional races had been held on Nov. 7, Democrats would have won back control of both the House and Senate. Now they’ll just have to wait till next year.