With Virginia, Voters Give Democrats First Big Wins of the Trump Era
FAIRFAX, Va.(Kulwinder Singh Flora): Voters delivered their first forceful rebuke of President Trump and his party on Tuesday night, with Democrats exploiting Mr. Trump’s deep unpopularity to capture the governorships in Virginia and New Jersey and make significant inroads into suburban communities that once favored the Republican Party.
The Democratic Party’s crowning success of the night came in Virginia, where Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam, an understated physician and Army veteran, won a commanding victory for governor, overcoming a racially charged campaign by his Republican opponent and cementing Virginia’s transformation into a reliably Democratic state largely immune to Trump-style appeals.
Mr. Northam was propelled to victory over Ed Gillespie, the Republican nominee, by liberal and moderate voters who were eager to send a message to Mr. Trump in a state that rejected him in 2016. Mr. Northam led Mr. Gillespie by nearly nine percentage points with 99 percent of precincts reporting, the widest victory in decades for a Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia.
His dominating performance offered a momentary catharsis for Democrats beyond the state’s borders who have been hungry to find political success this year and represented a stern warning to Republicans on the ballot next year about the peril of embracing Mr. Trump’s approach.
The campaign between a couple of low-key, establishment politicians was brought to life when Mr. Gillespie injected a handful of wedge issues, from immigration to Confederate iconography, into the race. But voters in Virginia’s affluent and highly educated urban centers rejected those tactics, handing Mr. Northam enormous margins in the state’s most vote-rich localities
Addressing jubilant supporters in Northern Virginia, Mr. Northam aimed his remarks squarely at Mr. Trump and Republicans echoing his politics.
“Virginia has told us to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry — and to end the politics that have torn this country apart,” he said, adding that in this state, “It’s going to take a doctor to heal our differences.”
The Democrats’ electoral validation, though, took place well beyond the Virginia governor’s race: They wrested the governorship of New Jersey away from Republicans, swept two other statewide offices in Virginia, made gains in the Virginia State Legislature, and won a contested mayoral race in New Hampshire.
In New Jersey, Philip D. Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive, won the governorship, according to The Associated Press, by a vast margin that brought an unceremonious end to Gov. Chris Christie’s tumultuous tenure.
In both Virginia and New Jersey, voters rebuffed a wave of provocative ads linking immigration and crime, hinting at the limitations of hard-edge tactics in the sort of affluent and heavily suburban states that are pivotal in next year’s midterm elections.
Even though Republicans in the two states mirrored Mr. Trump’s grievance-oriented politics, they kept him at arm’s length: He became the first president not to appear on behalf of candidates for governor in either state since 2001, when George W. Bush shunned the trail after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Since then, four of the five governors Virginia has elected have been Democrats. The party was also in contention late Tuesday to seize control of the state House of Delegates, an unexpected show of strength that, along with Mr. Northam’s victory, offered Democrats a stronger hand to block any Republican attempts at gerrymandering after the next census.
, said he considered the Democratic sweep in Virginia a repudiation of the White House. He faulted Mr. Trump’s “divisive rhetoric” for propelling the party to defeat, and said he believed traditionally Republican-leaning voters contributed to Mr. Northam’s margin of victory.
“I do believe that this is a referendum on this administration,” Mr. Taylor said of the elections. “Democrats turned out tonight, but I’m pretty sure there were some Republicans who spoke loudly and clearly tonight as well.”
Channeling the shock of Republicans across the state, Mr. Taylor voiced disbelief at the party’s rout down ballot. “I know folks that lost tonight who were going against candidates I’d never even heard of,” he said.
Mr. Trump was quick to fault Mr. Gillespie for keeping his distance, writing on Twitter while traveling in South Korea that the Republican candidate “did not embrace me or what I stand for.”