Off Year Election Brings Big Wins for Democratic Party

After a rough year, some good news for long-suffering Democrats

by Andrew Millman

Staff True Blue

Last Tuesday, the first regularly-scheduled general election in the country since Donald Trump became president was held. In two states won by Hillary Clinton, Virginia and New Jersey, the Democrats won the governorships and other major statewide offices. Washington voters gave the Democrats a majority in the state legislature, Maine expanded Medicaid in a referendum. Two New York counties, Westchester and Nassau, elected Democrats as county executives for the first time in many years, while Republicans retained a Utah congressional seat.

The most-watched race of the night was the Virginia gubernatorial election between incumbent Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and former RNC chair Ed Gillespie (R), which had been in a statistical tie in polling, albeit with a slight Northam advantage. Surprisingly, Northam won by a nine-point margin, which was four points better than Hillary Clinton’s win in the 2016 presidential race. The Democrats won in the two other statewide races as well, with Justin Fairfax and incumbent Mark Herring winning the races for Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General, respectively. Additionally, Democrats picked up fifteen seats in the Virginia House of Delegates. As of now, the party holds forty-nine of the one-hundred seats in the chamber, but four races with Republicans currently in the lead are within the margin of 1% necessary for a recount. It should be noted that Democratic candidates won 53% of Virginians’ votes for delegates, but will probably retain only forty-nine seats. In other news from the state, Danica Roem (D) will become the first ever open transgender person to serve as state legislator after defeating an incumbent who had passed his decades-long political career on being Virginia’s self-described “homophobe-in-chief” and refused to use the proper pronouns when addressing Roem. Looking forward, Northam won three congressional districts in the state currently held by Republicans and came very close in another. These races will be important in next year’s midterm congressional elections.

The outcome in the other gubernatorial election was expected. With unpopular incumbent Chris Christie (R) term-limited, New Jersey elected Phil Murphy over Christie’s Lt. Gov., Kim Guadagno (R), by thirteen points. Murphy has promised a progressive agenda that includes criminal justice reform, marijuana legalization, a state bank, gun control, and increased education spending. Like Virginia, New Jersey could also be important in the 2018 midterms. Two Republican incumbents have already announced their retirements and another two GOP incumbents appear to be vulnerable. Those eight districts in New Jersey and Virginia could be crucial to the Democrats’ path to retaking the House in 2018, which would require them flipping twenty-two seats.

In Washington state, a special election was held that decided control of the state senate, which had been controlled by Republicans. Manka Dhingra, a Democrat, won the open race in the suburban district near Seattle. Democrats now hold the governorships and state legislatures in all three West Coast states, California, Oregon and Washington. The three governors of those states have already voiced their desire to work together on a number of progressive causes, most notably climate change. Washington Governor Jay Inslee wants to implement a carbon tax (among other policies) to tackle the issue. In Maine, the state’s voters overwhelmingly supported a referendum to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, which could insure an additional seventy-thousand residents in the state. Maine Governor Paul LePage (R) had already stated that he will not implement the voters’ decision. However, activists in several states are planning to launch referenda campaigns of their own to expand Medicaid in 2018. In New York, Democrats won two county executive positions long held by Republicans in Westchester and Nassau. In Westchester, George Latimer (D) defeated incumbent Rob Astorino (R) by sixteen points after he had won last time by ten points. In Utah, Provo Mayor John Curtis won a special congressional election to replace Jason Chaffetz in a conservative district. Curtis is notably more skeptical of President Trump than most of his new congressional colleagues.

The final major election of 2017 will be the special election for the Alabama Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he became Attorney General. State Attorney General Luther Strange had been appointed to the seat by former Governor Robert Bentley, but lost in the Republican primary to former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. This was in large part because of Strange’s association with the scandal that forced Bentley from office. Moore has twice been forced out of office for violating judicial ethics and his charity has come into question for allegedly funneling money to his relatives. Shockingly, four women recently came forward to accuse Moore of child molestation when they were underage. (Ironically, Moore has claimed that legalizing same-sex marriage would lead to child abuse.) The women were backed up by thirty sources that corroborated their accounts. His Democratic opponent in the race is former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, who prosecuted the perpetrators of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, which killed four young girls.

The revelations have caused headaches for Senate Republicans. A poll taken after the scandal was reported has Moore and Jones in a tie in a state that voted for Donald Trump by nearly thirty points. However, when given the option of voting for Luther Strange as a write-in candidate, Jones is ahead in the poll by two points. If Moore were to lose the race, the GOP’s majority in the Senate would drop to 51-49. Moderate GOP Senators Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Susan Collins (ME) could now stop many controversial bills, such as the Republicans’ tax plan. If Doug Jones were to win, the Democrats would only need to win two Senate races in 2018 in order to take back the Senate, most likely in Nevada and Arizona, instead of also having to win in either Texas or Tennessee. The question will be if Alabama voters will choose a Democrat over a Republican who is facing credible child molestation allegations, which is not a guarantee since the state overwhelmingly supported Trump, even after the Access Hollywood tape and multiple accusations of sexual harassment levelled against him.

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