Wednesday marked one year since Donald Trump scored a stunning victory to be elected president of the United States. But Democrats were celebrating on Nov. 8 this year.
Tuesday’s off-year elections in Virginia, New Jersey and Washington saw Democrats score big gains, with Virginia as the most watched outcome. There Democrats won the governor’s race and other statewide offices, and are in close races that could give the party control of the state legislature.
Democrats are crowing about Tuesday’s results being a referendum on the Trump presidency, citing turnout in urban-suburban areas as heavier for Democrats than during the 2016 election. They point to Trump’s low popularity rating and surveys indicating voters in urban-suburban areas cast ballots in opposition to the president.
Democrat Ralph S. Northam, the gubernatorial winner, said his nine-point victory proves Virginians – and Americans overall – do not like Trump’s rhetoric and divisive politics. Trump responded to the results by saying the GOP loser, Ed Gillespie, the former head of the Republican National Committee, did not adequately embrace the president and his policies.
No matter how the outcome is portrayed, the Tuesday results will make Republicans nervous about the midterm elections in 2018. If Democrats are on target, they could seize control of the House and Senate in a landslide vote against Trump and the Republican Congress.
But Democrats would be mistaken to paint Tuesday’s results as a broad indicator for a year from now. New Jersey and Washington are traditionally Democratic states, and Virginia’s results point to Democrats having been more energized than Republicans in the off-year voting rather than a large shift in the electorate away from the GOP.
The map of the outcome tells a story. Nearly the entire state of Virginia is covered in red for the GOP. But Democrats dominated in metropolitan Virginia, and especially the populous Washington suburbs. Turnout was heavy in the Democratic areas.
According to analysis by Nate Cohn and Matthew Bloch of The New York Times:
• Northam also fared well in southeastern Virginia, where a large black population helps power Democratic margins that combine to rival northern Virginia. Northam, who hails from the state’s eastern shore, posted some of his best tallies in the region.
• Northam improved on Hillary Clinton’s numbers in the 2016 presidential election over nearly the entire state, outperforming her in white working-class areas where she did not do well and in well-educated areas where she did.
• Gillespie still fared well in white, rural, western Virginia. He ran far ahead of any recent Republican other than Trump, winning decisive victories in counties that he had lost three years ago in a much closer contest for the U.S. Senate.
Cohn and Bloch conclude: “The results looked more like the 2016 presidential election than any other recent election.”
Again Tuesday, Virginia’s map looked like those in state after state in 2016 when Trump dominated rural counties and Clinton, who won Virginia by five points, carried urban areas.
There is little change in the national electorate’s urban-rural divide.
The key next year again will be which party can get out its vote in its areas – and which one can make inroads with the third of the electorate described as independent.
Neither has shown the capability of ensuring independents will break their way. With the president’s approval ratings in the 30s and Democrats as a group also in the 30s, both have a lot of work to do.