NEW YORK — By any measure, Tuesday was a big night for Democrats, especially in Virginia, where they swept the top offices, including governor, and made strong gains in the General Assembly. Here are some takeaways from the biggest election night since Donald Trump’s victory a year ago.
Suburbs propel Democrats
It was largely a suburban rebellion, where more moderate voters rejected Trump and embraced Democrats.
Be it New Jersey, Virginia, or Charlotte, N.C., Democrats rode a miniwave of victories that will give them energy for candidate recruitment and fund-raising heading into the midterm elections next year.
In addition to winning the top races, for governor of New Jersey and Virginia, Democrats also captured the mayoral post in Manchester, N.H., and the state Senate in Washington, along with other important victories in state house elections.
Trumpism without Trump
Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate for governor in Virginia, tried his best to sound the call of Trump’s followers in stoking the nation’s culture wars. He was harsh on immigration, supportive of Confederate monuments, and opposed to those NFL players who have taken a knee.
But his public record before, as a national party chairman, White House counselor, and Washington lobbyist, had few of those harsh edges. And like a lot of Republicans, he only grudgingly supported Trump’s candidacy. Most notably, Gillespie did not seek to campaign with the president in Virginia, settling for support via Twitter. That left him with almost all of Trump’s baggage and few potential benefits.
Trump eschews blame
Trump, traveling in Asia, said Gillespie’s problem may well have been not embracing him enough. The president’s approval rating in Virginia was 38 percent in one recent poll, and he lost the state to Hillary Clinton.
Trump posted a message on Twitter endorsing Gillespie several weeks ago, then added a few more on Election Day. But with the stain of losing, Trump quickly cut ties.
“Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “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!”
Pragmatism over purity
Liberals who did not enthusiastically back Lieutenant Governor Ralph S. Northam, the Democratic candidate for Virginia governor, will be rethinking their theory of the race. Northam had a résumé that fit the profile of his state. He is an Army veteran, a physician and a moderate politically. He was, in a word, electable.
That does not mean the friction between the institutional party Democrats and those in the Bernie Sanders wing will fade. But the lesson from Virginia is that those fights in the primary are fine as long as each side coalesces behind the nominee. Northam defeated former representative Tom Perriello, who worked energetically for Northam’s election.
Red counties stay red
Northam’s voice may have gone down easy in the vast southwestern part of Virginia, but there was no political affinity. While many Democrats have argued that their party needs to work to regain the support of rural white voters, the results in Virginia, at least, show that those efforts may be futile.
But there was a notable exception. Northam won in Virginia Beach, a traditionally Republican area, showing perhaps that the backlash against Trumpism could extend to parts of the military population that dominates that region.
With a convincing, if expected, victory for governor of New Jersey, Philip D. Murphy, a former Wall Street banker, brought an emphatic end to the Chris Christie era. The Garden State now joins six other states that have Democrats in control of the legislative and executive branches.
Murphy has vowed to make his state a firewall against the policies of Trump.