Democrat Ralph Northam's win in the Virginia governor's race on Tuesday is the one that's getting lots of attention. But the much bigger win for Democrats -- at least as far as their outlook on the 2018 election -- was the Virginia House of Delegates.
Democrats went into Tuesday with few illusions about winning control of that chamber. Republicans, after all, controlled almost two-thirds of it -- 66 out of 100 seats. As of late Tuesday night, though, Democrats had the majority within their grasp.
The Post's Fenit Nirappil reports:
Democrats made significant gains Tuesday in Virginia’s House of Delegates, snaring at least 14 seats in an upset that stunned members of both parties and arrived with national implications.
Unofficial returns showed Democrats unseating at least 11 Republicans and flipping three seats that had been occupied by GOP incumbents who didn’t seek reelection. Four other races were so close that they qualify for a recount, and results will determine control of the chamber. The results marked the most sweeping shift in control of the legislature since the Watergate era.
In other words, Democrats need to win two of those four recounts to draw even in the chamber, and three of four would give them a majority.
It might seem not all that surprising that Democrats could win a state legislative chamber in Virginia, given their candidate just won the governorship by a comfortable nine-point margin. Virginia is trending toward blue-state status, having gone for Hillary Clinton in 2016 by five points, even as Donald Trump was picking off other blue-leaning swing states.
But thanks to a combination of the sorting of our population and the GOP-drawn redistricting maps in Virginia, the median delegate district there is actually about evenly split, having favored Clinton by two points, according to numbers crunched by Daily Kos Elections's Jeff Singer.
Across the country, Democrats are competing with these tough maps, with more than three-quarters of state legislative chambers having a median district that is redder than the state as a whole. Democrats need to win those median districts -- or even redder ones -- to have any shot at those majorities.
Virginia is hardly the toughest of those maps. In several swing states, they have to win median districts that went easily for Trump -- even by double digits.
But state legislative races are much more about picking a party than the governor's race, in which voters will be much more familiar with the two candidates they have to choose from. We only had two statewide races to analyze on Tuesday, given only New Jersey and Virginia hold governor's races the year after a presidential election, and that's a pretty small sample size from which to draw huge conclusions. Maybe Northam was just the right kind of candidate to exceed Clinton's numbers? Maybe Republican Ed Gillespie just ran a bad campaign?
And when you combine the Democrats' performance in the Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday with their over-performance in the vast majority of special elections this year and their rare, double-digit advantages on the generic congressional ballot in recent polls, it clearly suggests they have the momentum heading toward the calendar hitting 2018.
The body of evidence for that momentum still isn't massive, but it increased substantially on Tuesday. And the Virginia House of Delegates is a big part of that.