Voters in Virginia elected Ralph Northam, the democratic lieutenant governor as the 73rd governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Northam received 53.9 percent of the vote and defeated his opponent Ed Gillespie by nine points in an election many viewed as the first legitimate referendum on President Donald Trump. Gillespie had run on many of the same themes as the president did last year, characterizing Northam as soft on crime and declaring his support for the confederate statues whose presence are unavoidable throughout the state, including in the Commonwealth’s capital of Richmond, Virginia.
The race began as a more traditional election between Northam, a pediatric neurologist and the current lieutenant governor and Gillespie, who prior to the campaign had been closer to a mainstream Republican, working as a corporate lobbyist before entering the race. Gillispie’s Trump-like tactics of supporting confederate statues and personally attacking his opponent came into play two months ago as an attempt to make up ground in polls, and it worked. Coming into the week, RealClearPolitics had Northam at a 1.2 point advantage, which put the election within the margin of error in either direction.
However, Gillispie’s decision to play racial and personal issues backfired in the northern part of the state. Voter-rich Northern Virginia, which consists of the communities that border and support Washington D.C., rejected Gillispie’s narrative and delivered democratic votes in droves, propelling the party to its biggest victory in the state in years. Democrats won governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, and flipped 15 seats in the state legislature, including electing the state’s first transgender representative, Danica Roem.
Roem was elected to the assembly in a race that beat out the state’s most conservative legislator, Robert “Bob” Marshall. Marshall, who referred to Roem with male pronouns and who has been called Virginia’s “homophobe-in-chief” introduced Virginia’s version of a “bathroom bill,” which died in committee, earlier this year. According to The Washington Post, Roem’s victory is historic beyond the borders of Virginia, as she will be the first openly transgender representative to serve in any U.S. State Legislature.
The East Coast went blue in other places on Tuesday as well, as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio won re-election and former Goldman Sachs executive Phil Murphy won the gubernatorial race in New Jersey. Virginia’s election stand out as rallying point for Democrats against Trump. Republicans had basically given up on New Jersey well before the actual election, as current Governor Chris Christie’s extreme unpopularity limited the chances of any Republican to have a shot at winning the race. This played out as expected, as Murphy’s opponent, lieutenant governor Kim Guadagno, took in only 43 percent of the vote, down 17 points from Christie’s 60 percent showing in 2013.
Virginia, in contrast, was an open field for either party. Virginia’s constitution prevented current Governor Terry McAuliffe from serving more than one term consecutively, and while he is decently popular in the state there was no guarantee Northam would be able to ride McAuliffe’s popularity to victory. Tom Perez, the Democratic National Committee chairman, credited President Trump as part of the reason behind the Democrat’s victory in Virginia.
“Donald Trump was undeniably on the ballot in a number of races because he’s trying to divide America,” said Perez, on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Wednesday, Nov. 8.
According to Perez, people “are sick of [The President’s] twitter tirades,” and want “leaders they can be proud of.”