Below, we break down the winners and losers.
It’s become clear that Democrats have the momentum across the country. That’s apparent most notably in special elections, where they’ve very often beaten their 2016 presidential election performance, and also on the generic congressional ballot, where they lead in a few recent polls by double digits.
But they’ve thus far been unable to win the big ones, and that has led to plenty of grumbling about their ability to win when it counts. Their loss in a special congressional election in Georgia was particularly painful, given that they invested tens of millions of dollars in a conservative-leaning suburban Atlanta district but still did no better than Hillary Clinton did there in 2016. Northam's victory in Virginia should give Democrats confidence that they aren't totally feckless with the spotlight of the political world upon them.
And as the night progresses, it's looking like it will be even better than they might have hoped.
The transgender community
Transgender candidate Danica Roem's win for a House of Delegates seat in Virginia is huge both symbolically and historically. The Democrat defeated a social conservative icon in Del. Bob Marshall (R), a 26-year incumbent who once called himself Virginia's “chief homophobe.” And she did it by about 10 points. She also becomes the first openly transgender candidate elected to a state legislature in American history.
In Minneapolis, meanwhile, Andrea Jenkins (D) became the first openly transgender candidate to win a city council seat in a major city. And in Pennsylvania, Tyler Titus became the first openly transgender person elected in state history by winning a seat on the Erie school board.
One of the winners for the Virginia House of Delegates is Chris Hurst (D). For those who may vaguely remember that name, he is a former local TV news anchor whose girlfriend, Alison Parker, a reporter at the same station, was killed on live TV, along with a cameraman, by a disturbed former colleague in 2015. Hurst quit his job this year to run for office in her memory, and he won Tuesday in one of several surprises for Democrats.
Democrats' redistricting hopes
After the 2016 elections, The Fix's Amber Phillips and I spotlighted seven governors' races in the coming years that would be huge for Democrats' ability to prevent another drubbing in redistricting after the 2020 Census. Topping that list was Virginia.
Basically, Democrats in many swing states are in such rough shape in their legislatures that they need to capture the governor's mansion to prevent the GOP from drawing their next legislative and congressional maps. That places a premium on these races if Democrats want to have a good shot at winning back the House majority anytime soon. One down, six to go.
Oh, and Democrats also put a huge dent in the GOP's big advantage in the Virginia House of Delegates. It even looked like they might take the majority — something that had seemed unthinkable.
I never thought I'd say this at this point in the night, but Dems have a decent chance at the VA House of Delegates. Up 11 seats and counting (need 17).— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) November 8, 2017
Both Republican gubernatorial nominees — former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie in Virginia and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno in New Jersey — ran with a version of Trump's nationalistic, often dark anti-illegal-immigration message. And neither saw it pay off. Gillespie's use of the strategy was particularly jarring, given that he is basically the very definition of the kind of establishment Republican who has eschewed that kind of approach.
For a time, it seemed that the strategy might be helping Gillespie close the gap, but in the end it doesn't seem to have helped much at all. And the idea that this is a way forward for the GOP in winning elections in swing states such as Virginia was certainly dealt a setback.
In some ways, of course, that might be reassuring to the GOP establishment, which worries about the short-term gains and long-term problems this strategy might create.
Gillespie and GOP candidates who don't bear-hug Trump
Trump sent this tweet shortly after Gillespie's loss was called by the AP:
Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for. 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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 8, 2017
Trump is taking some liberties here. As mentioned above, Gillespie did embrace some of Trump's agenda, even if he didn't exactly say he loved Trump. The president also cut a robo-call for Gillespie that went out on Election Day. And the idea that he just needed to bear-hug Trump a little more doesn't really hold up, given that he lost by a large margin.
But think about what this says to other Republicans who may be on the fence about how to handle Trump in their races. Trump just threw Gillespie under the bus, and within minutes of his loss. The president — with some help from former top aide Stephen K. Bannon — seems quite willing to attack Republicans who don't toe the line, and that could force some Republicans into an uneasy choice.
The Breitbart head who is now targeting incumbent GOP senators in primaries seemed to see a good talking point coming down the pike — even if Gillespie just kept it close. He looks foolish now.
“He’s closed an enthusiasm gap by rallying around the Trump agenda,” Bannon said of Gillespie in a weekend piece in the New York Times. “And I think the big lesson for Tuesday is that, in Gillespie’s case, Trumpism without Trump can show the way forward. If that’s the case, Democrats better be very, very worried.”
Except, not so much. Bannon's comments not only fly in the face of Trump's tweet, but they make it look like he totally misplayed the expectations game here — dealing a blow to his supposed political acumen.
It may not be terribly surprising, given the overwhelming polling evidence that already showed that New Jersey hates its two-term, outgoing governor, but the numbers Tuesday in the Garden State were damning. About half of voters said their view of Christie predisposed them against Guadagno in her steep uphill battle to succeed him.
For comparison’s sake, only about one-third of Virginians said Trump made them less likely to support Gillespie. The number who said Christie made them more likely to back Guadagno was in the single digits. We’re a long way from Christie’s 22-point reelection win just four short years ago.