ubilant Democrats struck a defiant tone after sweeping victories across the country on Tuesday night, led by Democrat Ralph Northam’s surprise pummeling of Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia’s gubernatorial race.
Surveying their first electoral sweep in half a decade after a soul-crushing 2016 campaign and a desultory start to the Donald Trump era, Democratic leaders reset their expectations for the 2018 midterms. They’re now expecting a fundraising and candidate recruitment surge, powered by grass-roots fury at the Trump administration.
While most Democrats stopped short of predicting the party will take the House next year, they noted in Gillespie the failure of a candidate who tried balancing between Trump-style populism and establishment Republicanism.
“We were all under a lot of pressure saying we need to win this thing, we need a boost. But we gave a rocket boost tonight,” said outgoing Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, celebrating at Northam’s election night party. The result in the race to replace him, he said, “is a rejection of Trump, of the hatred and bigoted fear that they always bring into these campaigns.”
“I certainly didn’t see this ass-kicking coming; this is pretty stunning,” added Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). “Republicans have two problems: their president and their agenda. And I don’t think either of those liabilities are disappearing anytime soon.”
The shifted landscape remains forbidding for Democrats. They must flip 24 Republican-held seats to win the House, and are forced to defend 10 incumbent senators running for reelection in states that Trump won in 2016. They must also handle a range of painful internal tactical and policy divisions threatening to rupture their unity at any moment.
Plus, Tuesday’s wide victories came in one solidly Democratic state and another that’s been leaning that way, making it potentially perilous to read too much into their results.
But paired with Phil Murphy’s long-expected victory in New Jersey’s gubernatorial election, upsets in Virginia’s House of Delegates races, and wins in mayoral elections from New Hampshire to Florida, the evening presented Democrats with a night to celebrate for the first time since Trump’s shocking victory in November 2016. They have repeatedly fallen short in special elections in conservative areas so far this year, but Tuesday’s results wiped that slate nearly clean in the eyes of stunned party operatives and lawmakers.
After Northam’s win, New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Luján, chairman of House Democrats’ campaign wing, immediately started calling potential Democratic House candidates who were on the fence about whether to run.