Democrat Ralph Northam has beaten Republican Ed Gillespie in the race for Virginia governor after a bruising election that tested the power of Donald Trump’s fiery nationalism against the energy of the Trump resistance.
In Virginia, like in several contests across the US yesterday, the Trump resistance won – and it was not even close. Mr Northam, a paediatric neurologist and US Army veteran, led long-time Republican operative Mr Gillsepie by several points as the final votes ticked in, to seize his party’s first major Trump-era victory.
Democrats also scored victories in a governorship race in New Jersey and in Maine, where voters rejected the state’s Republican governor, a Trump ally, by backing a measure to expand Medicaid coverage under former president Barack Obama’s health care law.
The Democratic mayors of New York and Boston, both vocal Trump critics, also won re-election easily, and Virginia voters elected the state’s first openly transgender state representative, among more than a dozen state legislative wins for Democrats.
The resounding victories marked the Republicans’ most significant day of defeat in the young Trump presidency and a rebuke to the president himself as his party eyes a suddenly more threatening mid-term election season next year.
“The Democratic Party is back, my friends,” said Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez.
As Democrats celebrated, Republicans pointed fingers. “Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for,” Mr Trump tweeted last night as he toured Asia, noting that the Republicans won a handful of special elections earlier in the year.
“With the economy doing record numbers, we will continue to win, even bigger than before!”
Despite the criticism, Mr Gillespie did, in more ways than one, embrace what Mr Trump stands for, even if he did not welcome Mr Trump into the state to rally voters on his behalf.
The Republican president played a marginal role in Virginia, largely because Republicans on the ground did not want him there, a state he lost last autumn, as his approval ratings hover near record lows.
The White House instead dispatched vice president Mike Pence to help Mr Gillespie.
The former aide to George W Bush and Mitt Romney largely reinvented himself as Election Day neared by adopting many of Mr Trump’s racially tinged nationalist positions.
He warned of the dangers of the Hispanic street gang MS-13, vowed to protect Confederate monuments, and condemned the national anthem protests by NFL players, the vast majority of them black.
In New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy trounced Republican Kim Guadagno, who served under the term-limited, deeply unpopular Republican governor Chris Christie.
New Jersey senator Cory Booker, among several Democrats weighing a presidential bid in 2020, cast his party’s victories in New Jersey and Virginia as “the very first statewide rebuttal of the Trump administration”.
“We will not succumb to the politics of fear,” he said. The day also exposed deepening regional divisions between America’s two major political parties.