Tuesday, Democrats scored sweeping wins in the increasingly blue state of Virginia. While polls showed the race tightening in the gubernatorial race’s waning days they showed the bulk of undecided voters were poised to break to Northam. And they did.
Democrats easily won the gubernatorial race and by somewhat narrower margins for AG and Lt. Governor. What was most surprising, if you believe the pundits, is the massive shift in the House of Delegates. At best, the GOP will have a 51-49 majority once all the absentees have been counted. That means at minimum Democrats gained 15 seats in the state legislature. But, according to Sean Trende at RCP not a single district that has flipped to date in the House of Delegates gave Clinton less than 50 percent of the vote (see table).
There were 17 districts held by Republicans that voted for Clinton in 2016 last Tuesday. After Tuesday, Republicans might control only two of them. That is not surprising. It merely follows districts in the era of Trump following their national tendencies down-ballot. Much as many Southern states and districts have.
That said, Democrats finally enjoyed success in down-ballot contests and their focus on these races is unlikely to change. For example, last week the Washington Post noted Virginia was a testing ground for Democratic groups in down-ballot contests. Obviously, they are happy with the results. But, they did not win any Trump held GOP districts.
It was not just in Virginia where Democrats enjoyed down-ballot success. In WA State, they gained a crucial Seattle suburban Senate district that allowed them to take unified control of state government. In New Hampshire, they won a sleepy House race in a Trump district. In GA, two Democrats took a GOP held Senate district and a progressive also narrowly carried a Trump House district. They also took two heavily Democratic County Executive seats in NY State. And to Democrats biggest glee, in suburban Philly’s Bucks and Delaware counties the party gained seats it had not held in more than 30 years (county sheriff, recorder of deeds, county commissioner, etc).
But it is in New New Jersey where things get really interesting. Democrat Phil Murphy cleaned the clock of of Republican Kim Guadgnao by a wide margin. But, in legislative races the best Democrats could do was pick up two open House seats and knock off a single GOP incumbent. And this is where it gets telling. Outside of Virginia, Democrats scored few wins against GOP incumbents. Worse, Democrats performance relative to the 2016 partisan lean of the district was pretty static.
Average Democratic performance relative to each district’s partisan lean, by incumbency status
|TYPE OF RACE||VIRGINIA HOUSE OF DELEGATES||NEW JERSEY STATE SENATE||BOTH|
|Seats with Democratic incumbents||+6||+10||+9|
|Seats with Republican incumbents||+1||-1||0|
So all these wins have one thing in common (for the most part). The seats were blue-leaning at the national level and reverted to their partisan lean at the local level. The one bright spot for the GOP might be that in a GOP leaning race for PA Supreme Court, their candidate won by a decent margin suggesting Tuesday was mostly about blue seats reverting to their “blueness,” and not a wave of red seats rejecting Republicans.
Democrats would be foolish not to be excited about last night. But they hardly gained ground on red turf, the turf they will be fighting on in 2018. Democrats have not confirmed to date, even after Tuesday, they can win in these areas.
Republicans are understandably spooked. Robert Goodlatte, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, stunned all when he announced he was retiring. His +25 Trump district is a haul for Democrats but combined with other retirements seems to indicate the GOP might be facing significant losses next year. Yet, to date, most retirements have been in safely red or strongly GOP leaning districts among long-serving members.
Still, this opens up the possibility of major Democratic gains due to GOP retirements. If Democrats gain ground in red seats and the national environment is favorable enough to the party they could stitch together 24 seats from open red seats and knocking off enough incumbent Republicans in Clinton seats. Course, they also would have to defend their own members in Trump districts.
So again, Democrats have every right to feel giddy. And Republicans should be worried. They should be even more worried about Roy Moore in Alabama. But this result in no way guarantees Democratic wins in 2018 which will be fought on vastly different turf and among more varied electorates.