Democrats were hoping for big results following multiple losses in special elections after the 2016 presidential election. Here were some of the key results from the 2017 elections:
Following the 2016 election it seemed like the party was in serious trouble. In fact, the party’s liberal and centrist wings were still at odds. The party came close in several special elections but was unable to flip any of them including a key one in Georgia. In many ways it was a continuation of the 2016 election since the Democratic Party was clearly against Donald Trump. However, the party and its leaders were still unable to define what they stood for.
The Democratic brand seemed to be back on track after the 2017 elections. For example, Murphy and Northam were often criticized for not being exciting enough to boost turnout on election day. However, they both won decisive victories.
However, it wasn’t just top-of-the-ticket Democrats who did well during the election. Democrats have a chance to take the House of Delegates in Virginia based on the outcome of ongoing recounts. Few political experts had projected that would be the outcome of the election. The victories were also diverse including the state’s first two Latina state legislators and the nation’s first openly transfer state legislator. The Democratic winners also were on different areas of the political spectrum ranging from conservative to democratic-socialist.
Democrats won big in two governors’ races that took place in Virginia and New Jersey. The biggest win was in Virginia where Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam defeated Republican Ed Gillespie after many pundits were picking Gillespie to win after running multiple negative ads.
The election was seen as a critical one not only for Virginia but also for the US. In many ways it was a referendum on the Trump presidency. Republicans hadn’t lost any House special elections since the 2016 election but it was unclear whether the unpopular president would have an effect on state-wide elections like the one in Virginia.
If Northam won it would show that Trump was having a negative effect on the GOP and especially in highly competitive races. In the final days of the campaign the GOP candidate tried to portray Northam’s policies as extreme but it didn’t stick in part due to Trump’s low approval ratings. A Northam win would also show the power of the grass-roots movement to get them elected and its effect on the statehouse races.
Meanwhile, winning the election would also help Democrats recruit good candidates for the mid-term elections next year. A loss would make it tougher after a string of losses during House special elections.
However, if Gillespie won it would show that Gillespie had successfully used reactionary methods to link Northam to criminals and gangs. It would likely result in more GOP candidates using the same negative campaigns next year. Many of the tactics were used by Trump during the 2016 election and were effective in shifting the public’s attention from discussion on various key issues.
There was also the chance that a loss would be devastating for Democrats’ hopes of winning key elections next year. The belief would be that giving the campaign an anti-Trump tone would actually motivate his president’s supporters. Democrats tend to perform better when turnouts are high, which was evident in the 2016 election when many voters were unhappy about both the Republican and Democratic candidates.
In New Jersey Phil Murphy easily defeated Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno as Chris Christie left the governor’s mansion with a rock-bottom 15% approval rating. This flipped the governor’s mansion back to the Dems after Christie’s involvement in “Bridgegate.”
It was an interesting election because Murphy ran a campaign that focused on a progressive agenda including more public school funding at a $15 minimum wage. Murphy was a former investment banker as well as an ambassador to Germany. His opponent Guadagno had to deal with Christie’s popularity, which made it tough to raise funds.
Christie was twice elected as New Jersey’s governor. However, he earned record-low approval ratings after running for president in 2016 and being involved in Bridgegate. The situation involved the lane closure of the George Washington Bridge. A staff member of Christie took steps to make traffic jams in New Jersey by shutting down lanes on the bridge.
It was theorized that the lanes were closed to attack the Fort Lee Mayor after he didn’t support Christie for his 2013 gubernatorial election. Several of Christie’ appointees were then investigated. Many of Christie’s associates were found guilty of various accusations after a federal investigation. Bridgegate had a major effect on Christie’s presidential campaign and resulted in him dropping out of the presidential race after the New Hampshire primary.
VA House of Delegates
Democrats did better than expected in Virginia’s house of Delegates races. The Republicans still hold a slim 51-49 edge with multiple requests for recounts. However, few experts had projected Democrats would become so close to taking the House of Delegates. Victories included a win by the US’ first openly transgender person. In the statewide elections the Republican brand was toxic.
There’s some debate about whether such elections are precursors of results for the next midterm elections. However, it shows that Democratic voters in VA are energized and could be a major issue as Democrats attempt to win back the House of Representatives in 2018. Many experts had projected it was likely in 2016 but could be more likely after two years of Trump’s presidency.
Northam not only won but did so after many pundits projected he could lose. He was the front-runner for several months. However, in the weeks leading up to the election many pundits projected that Northam could lose the election. The various criticism included that he didn’t have enough charisma, avoiding his response to Gillespie’s anti-immigration attacks, and that he would blow the election like Hillary Clinton did during the year before.
However, Northam proved the pundits were wrong. He out-performed Clinton’s 5-point victory in Virginia in 2016. He showed that he was a stronger candidate than many pundits argued and was able to take the right steps to win the election.