Democratic Tide...Not So Much

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By The Art Department

Many of my liberal friends were satisfied by the recent string of victories for democratic candidates in the Virginia and New Jersey governors’ races. While it was certainly tempting for them to jump on these results as a rejection of Trump and predict trouble for Republicans in the midterms, this was not the strong rejection of conservatism that my liberal friends had been hoping for.

The result in Virginia was certainly surprising to most. After all, the Republican nominee, Ed Gillespie, made a climb in the polls before Election Day to only three points behind. He had only lost in Virginia in the 2014 Senate Race by 0.8 percent, with worse showings in the polling. In addition, a week before the election, the Latino Victory Fund ad painted Ed Gillespie supporters as predators to minorities. Many people, myself included, expected this to only further damage the Northam campaign and rally support toward Gillespie. After all, this is what happened to Trump after Clinton characterized half of his supporters as “deplorables.” These factors led me to believe that Gillespie had a good chance of winning in a blue-leaning state. This turned out to be massively wrong, as Democrat Ralph Northam won a convincing nine point victory over Gillespie, larger than Clinton’s margin of victory over Trump in Virginia last year.

Part of Northam’s unexpectedly large margin of victory can be attributed to his shift to the right as Election Day approached. He said on the campaign trail that he would not allow any cities in Virginia to pursue a sanctuary city policy of not enforcing the law and allowing illegal immigrants to stay in their city. This move to the right probably helped him shift the vote totals in Virginia Beach, his hometown and a largely veteran and typically Republican area, in his favor. The other two races for Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General were won by a five point and seven point margin by the Democrats, respectively. These results were both significantly lower than the governor’s race, showing that Northam was a strong candidate.

Another surprise was how much the Democrats exaggerated their success in the Virginia House of Delegates elections. While a 15-seat change from Republican to Democrat is certainly significant, 14 of the 15 districts voted for Clinton in 2016 (Trump won the district that didn’t by a mere 0.5 percent). In addition, the average margin of victory in the 15 districts that flipped to Democrats was 9.44 percent compared to Clinton’s 11.76 percent in 2016. Clinton’s election was supposed to be an example of a poor result by a Democrat, and the Democrats couldn’t even outperform that.

Many may look at these results and wonder how these fairly Democratic districts had Republican representatives for such a long time. The answer is that the Republicans tended to vote in the down-ballot races far more often, which is why they have consistently had a majority in the state legislatures in Virginia and throughout the country. The main takeaway from the recent Virginia election should be that Republicans can no longer be dependent on down-ballot success in the future as Democrats are starting to vote down-ballot more often. This means that the Republicans likely won’t be as dominant in statewide elections as during the Obama years, where they won 33 of 50 governorships and controlled both legislatures in a whopping 32 states.

In New Jersey, Republican Kim Guadagno performed very well given the circumstances. She was running in a solidly blue state, and as the Lieutenant Governor during Chris Christie’s administration, she suffered from his abysmal 14 percent approval rating. The fact that she lost by a slightly smaller margin than Trump did in New Jersey given the impossibly tough circumstances of her campaign is an impressive achievement.

While these elections have been hyper-inflated by Democrats to boost their party’s morale, Republicans cannot treat these elections as if nothing happened. After all, the GOP base didn’t show the same enthusiasm that it did in the Obama years, and that really showed in the down-ballot races. Imagine a scenario in which the GOP gets neither tax cuts nor the repeal of Obamacare passed by midterms next year. Combine that with an increasingly energized resistance movement within the Democratic Party and less enthusiasm in the Republican Party. If the House continues to pass bills at a faster pace than all three previous administrations, it may be immune to more conservative primary challengers and barely lose seats.

The more likely scenario under those circumstances is that voters will become tired of the lack of action by Republican congressmen and the Republicans lose control of the House. These elections are not a sign of the party’s collapse, nor are they nearly as optimistic for Democrats as advertised. However, they should galvanize Republicans to pass legislation to increase their majority in the Senate and maintain their majority in the House.