The coming weeks will feature a lot of Trump-friendly Republicans insisting he has nothing to do with last night’s top-to-bottom shellacking of the GOP in Virginia, and a lot of not-so-Trump-friendly Republicans insisting he’s got everything to do with the electoral disaster.
If last night had brought a routine disappointment for Republicans — say, the statewide candidates losing by a few points and only a handful of state assembly seats flipping to the Democrats — the “blame Trump” argument would be weaker. But last night was the worst night for Republicans in Virginia in a long time. Gillespie lost by the worst margin for a Republican gubernatorial candidate in the state since 1985. No GOP statewide candidate hit 48 percent. Perhaps more significantly, Republicans entered Election Day with a 17-seat margin in the state assembly and lost at least 13, with seven seats too close to call this morning.
State Representative Bob Marshall represents a district that covers parts of Prince William and Loudon counties. Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe carried this district by a point in 2013 but by 2016, Hillary Clinton carried it by 14 points, so perhaps Marshall should have recognized his district was turning bluer. But during the off-year state legislative elections of 2015, Marshall won by a comfortable margin, 56 percent to 44 percent. This year he ran against Danica Roem, the first transgender candidate in Virginia history, and Roem reversed the numbers, winning 54 percent to 45 percent.
The fairest and most accurate critique about Ed Gillespie is that his 2017 campaign was neither fish nor fowl. He had too much history as an Establishment insider to drive up big turnout among Trump’s voters, but his campaign’s autumn messages focusing on sanctuary cities, gangs, Confederate statues, and felon voting rights were too “Trumpified” to win over those moderate suburban soccer moms. As I mentioned during an interview with WMAL’s Mary Walter and Vince Coglianese this morning, I wonder how many suburbanites resented Gillespie for his ads telling them about infamous child pornographers during every commercial break.
You’ll probably hear Trump fans arguing Gillespie ran a bad campaign. But he and his supporters kept pace with spending and television advertising, hustled on the stump, and didn’t make many errors or gaffes. This is the same guy who came within a percentage point of knocking off a Democratic incumbent in 2014. He’s likely to finish with about 120,000 or so more votes than he won in that midterm election year.
Gillespie actually kept his party more unified than Trump did; exit polls indicated that 95 percent of self-identified Republicans voted for Gillespie, compared to 88 percent for Trump. (Note that Virginia does not register voters by party, so all responses are best thought of as, “which party do you feel like you belong to today?”) White evangelicals were about as supportive of Gillespie (79 percent) as they were of Trump (80 percent). Those who live in households with guns were slightly more supportive of Gillespie (61 percent) than they were of Trump (59 percent).
Gillespie narrowly won independents, 50 percent to 47 percent. Trump did a little better in that group last year, 48 percent to 43 percent. Gillespie actually did slightly better than Trump among blacks, 12 percent to 9 percent.
No, the big difference of this year is that the Democratic base was fired up on a scale not seen since 2008. Yesterday’s Virginia electorate was 41 percent self-identified Democrat, 30 percent self-identified Republican, and 28 percent independent or something else. When the electorate looks like that, Republicans will get demolished every time. For comparison, Virginia’s 2016 electorate, according to the exit polls, was 40 percent Democrat, 33 percent Republican, and 26 percent independent.
The exit poll asked voters, “How do you feel about the way Donald Trump is handling his job as president?” and 40 percent said they approved and 57 percent disapproved. That’s actually higher than his job approval rating nationally in most polls. If Trump’s job approval is 40 or below in a state on Election Day 2018, Republicans can expect further dismal losses.
Former Goldman Sachs Executive Beats Woman in New Jersey Gubernatorial
Let’s not forget that the Republican party managed to completely disappear in New Jersey.
As of Wednesday morning, with 99 percent of districts reporting, [Democrat Phil] Murphy led [Republican Lieutenant Governor Kim] Guadagno by about 13 percentage points — 55.4 percent to 42.5 percent, according to the Associated Press. Murphy was ahead by nearly 250,000 voters — 1.12 million to 859,000.
. . . Polls showed that Guadagno was hurt by her connection to Christie, a one-time national Republican star and presidential contender whose approval ratings have dropped by nearly 50 percentage points over the last few years.
After voting in Mendham on Tuesday morning, Christie rejected the idea that this race was a referendum on his two terms as governor.
“This is not an election about me,” Christie said. “I had my referendum. My referendum was four years ago.”
After Murphy’s inaugurated, Christie will have more time to spend on the beach.
The downballot races in New Jersey were similarly grim for Republicans:
In perhaps the biggest upset of the night, former Monmouth County Democratic Chair Vin Gopal unseated veteran Republican state Sen. Jennifer Beck in the 11th District along the Jersey Shore.
Entering Tuesday, Democrats had a 24-16 majority in the Senate and a 52-28 majority in the Assembly. At the very least, Democrats will gain at least one seat in the Senate when all the votes are tallied and possibly more in the Assembly.
There Will Be No Justice for Staten Island Chuck
Continuing the cavalcade of GOP failure . . . just how did Republicans manage to not even come close to running competitively against incumbent New York City mayor Bill De Blasio? The city’s infrastructure and subways are falling into disrepair, the city’s nightly homeless shelter population has reached a record high in 25 of the 41 months of his term, the number of homeless children is rising, the governor hates him, the cops hate him, and he’s got the charisma of a boiled turnip. Hell, he murdered a groundhog!
And yet he never had reason to sweat.
Gliding to his second landslide victory, Bill de Blasio was re-elected on Tuesday as the mayor of New York City, overwhelming his Republican challenger, Nicole Malliotakis, and a handful of independent candidates in what he declared a persuasive affirmation of his progressive agenda.
Mr. de Blasio, the first Democratic mayor to be re-elected in a generation, since Edward I. Koch captured his third term in 1985.
ADDENDA: Yesterday was the last big election until . . . December 17, when Alabama has its special U.S. Senate election. One poll has the race between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones tied, the other shows Moore with an 11-point lead.