This isn’t a surprise, since Ralph Northam (D) has been leading Ed Gillespie (R) in the polls for the Virginia governor’s office for weeks. The latest tally has Northam running at 53.3% of the vote to Gillespie’s 45.5%.
It was interesting watching Brit Hume offer opinion on Fox News earlier this evening. Hume stressed repeatedly that this outcome would be taken as evidence that Trump’s unpopularity is now getting Republicans defeated.
But that analysis doesn’t actually jibe with the circumstances, which include the fact that Gillespie is a middle-of-the-road Republican whose name recognition has no connection with Trump or Trump supporters. Gillespie has been around a long time, having been chairman of the RNC 2003-05, as well as a White House counsel to George W. Bush. He ran unsuccessfully for the Senate (from Virginia) in 2014.
Gillespie is exactly the kind of candidate the GOP tends to run in blue states, which Virginia has basically become over the last 20 years. He’s the kind the GOP tends to lose with in those states. And with its own version of an urban-blue demographic shift in the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C. and the I-95/64 corridor to Tidewater, Virginia has turned more and more inhospitable to Republicans. Trump gave Democrats a scare there last year, but he lost the state to Hillary Clinton.
It will be of some interest to determine if Gillespie lost counties and precincts that went for Trump in 2016. On balance, we would rarely expect those locations to switch from Trump to Northam. Gillespie is somewhat colorless as a Republican, to be sure, but most Trump voters wouldn’t find that too off-putting to go ahead and vote for him. So we’ll see if analysis later this week offers that kind of food for thought.
The bottom line, however, is that if the Virginia GOP was running Ed Gillespie, this wasn’t really a test of “Trump,” in the way the GOP run-off win for Roy Smith was in Alabama. A vote for Gillespie was not significant for GOP voters who seek change. It would have been a vote for the old-consensus status quo.
My own opinion is that Gillespie would have lost this match-up in Virginia no matter who was in the White House.
The same can be said of Kim Guadagno (R) in New Jersey, who lost today to Democrat Phil Murphy after trailing him by double digits in the gubernatorial polling throughout the campaign. New Jersey is a solidly blue state and has been for considerably longer than Virginia. Chris Christie — who couldn’t get elected dog-catcher in a state like Alabama or Nebraska — is a colorful, abrasive Republican who carried off a rare feat in his two terms as governor. But it’s been clear for months that Guadagno’s fortunes would develop along more conventional lines, even though she has been Christie’s lieutenant governor.
(Money doesn’t appear to have been a big factor. The amounts being spent — in the single-digit millions — were typical of gubernatorial races in states of this size, and neither candidate appears to have had a significant advantage in either Virginia or New Jersey.)
New Jersey is also electing state legislators, and the Democrats are expected to keep control of both houses.
We mustn’t forget Hizzoner Bill de Blasio, who “cruised” to a reelection victory today in New York City. With typical grace, he mused on his own feat of gaining reelection, as the first NYC mayor to do so since Ed Koch over 30 years ago:
“There’s no reason in the world we should have had 20 years of Republican mayors in New York City,” he said.
The surprise would have been if Republicans won any of these offices, only one of which — governor of New Jersey — is currently held by a Republican. We don’t know for sure what would have happened if more Trump-friendly GOP candidates had run in either Virginia or New Jersey, but I don’t think that would have made a difference. In both states, which Hillary Clinton won in 2016, the presentable mainstream Democrat was likely to win all along.
There may be a few surprises in odd state races yet to be reported, but coverage of those is scant tonight. I suspect we can pronounce that things haven’t changed in the blue-trending states where there was no decisive Trump surge in 2016 — they are about as likely/unlikely as they ever were to elect Republicans — and put this one in the can.
*UPDATE*: Republican John Curtis, mayor of Provo, has easily won the congressional seat (Utah-3) being vacated early by Jason Chaffetz.