A year after Donald Trump shocked much of the political world with a decisive electoral college victory over Hillary Clinton, Democrats found plenty to celebrate in Tuesday’s off-year election results from New Jersey and Virginia.
Democratic wins at the top of the ticket in both states highlighted a night that also saw Democrats make surprising inroads down-ballot in Virginia, defeating at least 15 Republican incumbents in the Virginia House of Delegates.
Meanwhile, the exit poll data is a clear warning sign for Republicans heading into next year’s midterms elections: voters dissatisfied with the President and the GOP turned out in droves on Tuesday.
So what does it all mean for Democratic efforts to take back the House in 2018? And for the state of Trump’s GOP? C&E asked campaign consultants from varying disciplines to weigh in:
Chris Wilson, WPA Intelligence: “Based on initial returns it appears rural VA voted heavily Gillespie but didn't turn out at the same elevated rates they did for Trump. It that holds true, it's significant. At this point I’m not sure if it means the campaign didn’t turn them out or they weren’t motivated and couldn’t be turned out, but it certainly points to the conclusion that 2018 will be a turnout—not a persuasion—election.
In Texas, there are 2,068,746 voters who don’t plan to turnout in 2018 but will vote for Gov. Greg Abbott if they do. We, the Abbott campaign, are already running a turnout operation at those voters. In Nevada, there are 45,137 for Adam Laxalt. Any campaign that can’t tell you their turnout target number is likely going to lose.”
Jose Parra, Prospero Latino: “Ed Gillespie's race-baiting ads backfired spectacularly. I've seen polling data that shows those ads caused minorities to turn out in higher numbers and also turned off white voters. Further, we saw very effective engagement by community groups who harnessed all that energy into turnout, especially in NoVa. The same is true for New Jersey: Kim Guadagno just jumped off a cliff thinking Trump would catch her.
Republicans such as Barbara Comstock [in Virginia] and all those vulnerable districts in Southern California, Colorado, Florida and Texas are right to be sweating right now. If anything they should be demanding that Paul Ryan bring the DREAM Act to a vote so they can get on the right side. If not, the Trump albatross, as it proved up and down the ticket, could sink the Republican majorities. They were already in trouble with a raft of retirements; after this, holding onto those swing districts will be a Herculean task.”
Liz Chadderdon, Chadderdon Lestingi Strategies: “I worked on races in Virginia and Georgia and we saw the following both before Election Day and certainly on Election night: 1.) suburban white women were highly motivated from the beginning and were key to victories up and down the ticket in Virginia, 2.) since January we have wondered if the anti-Trump fervor would translate into electoral gains. Now we know the answer is yes, 3.) jobs, taxes and transportation did not drive the messaging, it was healthcare, guns, equal pay and protecting women’s access to birth control and planned parenthood, 4.) polling was wrong because they were modeling to 2013 turnout. Don’t do that: this is not going to be 2014.
It’s time to expand the electorate beyond who only comes out in a “like” election. Modeling gives us the ability to find “super Dems” with low voter turnout history and we should be focusing on them instead of trying to win high turnout Republicans.”
Chuck Rocha, Solidarity Strategies: "Last night was a wake up call for Republicans to run far away from Donald Trump. The Virginia election and all the special elections in 2017 prove that 2018 is going to be a wave election for Democrats. The only question yet to be determined is how big the wave will be. You can’t talk about Latinos as second class citizens and only in the context of gang members and not expect them to fight back and show up to vote against Donald Trump Republicans."
Adam Probolsky, Probolsky Research: “People say that the Republican Party is divided, and it is. The anti-Trump vote is a massive problem for the Republican Party going forward. Non-conspiracy theory Republicans cannot stomach the president, and in some volume, voted against any GOP candidate that embraced him.
Virginia could be the beginning of the ushering in of a new era – the coalition of the non-conspiracists. The divisions among Americans are real and deep. The midterm elections in 2018 will be ugly; there will likely be isolated violence.”
Isaac Salazar, LPS Campaigns: "This reminds me a lot of the 2009 election that preceded the 2010 Tea Party wave when Bob McDonnell defeated Creigh Deeds for Governor in Virginia. That was clearly a response to the election of President Obama by previously under-engaged voters. Thankfully, Democrats are on the other end of the pendulum swing this time. By this comparison, it looks like 2018 will swing for Democrats the way 2010 did for Republicans."
Jason Boxt, PSB: "I think the election results above all else show that politics and the political process are alive and well. Granted, this wasn’t a far-ranging election, but the overwhelming Democratic turnout showed that the right message, shared with the right audiences, delivered by the right messengers, will deliver victory.
I don’t think we should use 2017 to read the tea leaves for 2018 necessarily, but I think everyone is now on notice that wave elections – heretofore thought no longer possible – are absolutely possible, and candidates in 2018 are going to have to think long and hard about the kind of campaigns they’re going to run, the issues they support, and the tone of the campaign they embrace. Again and again the political intelligentsia discounts the ability of voters to be discerning and engaged – they will do so next year at their own peril."
Josh Nanberg, Ampersand Strategies: "Last night's election results were hugely important for calming the nerves of Democrats who were frustrated by our inability to win the Congressional special elections that have come up this year…so in a lot of ways, it was like stepping into a an ice cream shop on a hot summer day — the instant relief you get from the air conditioning just at the point where you think you might be overcome by the heat.
But even more importantly, you look at the results. This was a rejection of Trumpism in Virginia and New Jersey. Ralph Northam drew a lot of criticism from Democrats at the end for some perceived fumbles in his messaging and his campaign, but he still danced across the finish line victorious, and he brought a whole lot of Delegates with him.
In Pennsylvania, every statewide winner, regardless of party, was a woman (all judges), and in Nashua, New Hampshire, the City Council will have 7 women next year. Manchester elected its first female mayor. A woman of color won the seat that will flip the Washington legislature, two trans women made history with their own elections. That tells you something, too. I think in the era of Harvey Weinstein and the #metoo campaign, people have realized that men will continue to behave badly as long as they have the power to wield. We took a big step closer to parity last night in races all over the country.
I keep reminding people that we can't take a victory lap, we've only come out of the first quarter with a lead. There's still a long time to go before we even hit the midterms, with a lot of Senate seats to defend, congressional seats to pick up, and state offices to win back."