Election Night 2017 yielded good results for Democrats across the country, from Virginia to Washington state.  Democrats won two governorships—flipping one in New Jersey—and also won a substantial number of state legislative seats.


The Governor’s race in the Old Dominion State was over before it even started.  Early returns—which tend to come in from Republican areas—showed an overall lack of enthusiasm for the Republican nominee Ed Gillespie.  Of particular note was Mr. Gillespie’s performance in the Richmond suburbs, comprising Chesterfield and Henrico counties,  which are must-wins for successful Republican candidates.  Mr. Gillespie won heavily populated Chesterfield county by only 0.3%, whereas Mitt Romney won the county by almost 8 points in 2012, and Governor McDonnell by a healthy 33-point margin in 2009.  Governor-elect Ralph Northam also crushed Mr. Gillespie by a whopping 22-point margin in Henrico County, which Governor McDonnell carried by 13 points in 2009.  Unsurprisingly, Mr. Gillespie underperformed in both counties relative to his narrow loss to Senator Mark Warner in 2014.

Likewise, Governor-elect Northam walloped Mr. Gillespie in southeastern Virginia, winning Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Portsmouth by comfortable margins.  Mr. Gillespie lost both Virginia Beach and Chesapeake counties, both of which he carried in 2014.  Mr. Northam also sizably outperformed his predecessor, outgoing Governor Terry McAuliffe, in reliably blue Northern Virginia—propelling Northam to a relatively easy 9-point victory over Mr. Gillespie.  Notably, Mr. Northam won swing counties Prince William and Loudon by 22 and 20 points, respectively.

Elsewhere in Virginia, Democrats obliterated a 32-seat deficit in Virginia’s 100-member House of Delegates.  As of this writing, the Associated Press has called 97 seats, giving the Democrats a 49-48 edge.[1]  Of note is the race in Virginia’s 94th District, based in Newport News, were Democrat Shelly Simonds trails her opponent by 13 votes.  The race is expected to head to a recount, meaning control of the House of Delegates could hang in the balance for weeks.[2]

With provisional ballots being counted, Democrats appear poised to ask for a recall in three seats:  Virginia’s 28th District, where Delegate Bob Thomas (R-Stafford) has an 84-vote lead; the 40th District, where Delegate Timothy Hugo (R-Fairfax) has a 115-vote lead; and, of course, the 94th District, where Shelly Simonds still trails by 13 votes.

Also worth noting is that Danica Roem became one of the first transgender legislators in the United States, beating 13-year incumbent Robert G. Marshall, who introduced a transgender bathroom bill in Virginia this year.[3]

Overall, Virginia Democrats should be happy with the results.  Data provided by the Virginia Public Access Project shows that Mr. Northam improved on Governor McAuliffe’s performance in heavily populated areas, including Northern Virginia, the greater Richmond area, Southeast Virginia, and Charlottesville.[4]  Likewise, this may be the first time since 2000 that Republicans will not have control of the Virginia House of Delegates.  Despite this good news for Democrats, they should not rest on their laurels as they have yet to show that they can compete in President Trump’s territory.  Indeed, Mr. Gillespie improved on the performance of Ken Cuccinelli—who narrowly lost to Governor McAuliffe in 2013—in Virginia’s coal country and most of southern Virginia.[5]  Moreover, of the Democrat pickups in the House of Delegates, most came from areas won by Hillary Clinton in 2016.[6]  Both of these factors should militate against too much Democratic optimism, as Democrats still must craft a strategy to win in Republican areas ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

New Jersey

Former ambassador and Wall Street executive Phil Murphy easily dispatched Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno to become the next Governor of New Jersey.  While Mr. Murphy beat Ms. Guadagno by a comfortable, 13-point margin, Democrats may have hoped for a stronger showing out of Mr. Murphy.  Governor-elect Murphy failed to convert any traditionally Republican-leaning counties in the Garden State, although he came close in northwestern Somerset and Morris County.  Unlike Jon Corzine—the last Democrat to win the Governor’s race in New Jersey in 2005—Mr. Murphy failed to carry southwestern Salem County.  Mr. Murphy dramatically improved on Mr. Corzine’s performance, however, in New Jersey’s urban counties, carrying Hudson County (Jersey City) and Essex County (Newark) with roughly 80% of the vote, as well as Mercer County (Trenton) and Camden County (Camden) with 65% and 67%, respectively.  Mr. Murphy will come to office with Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, who will be New Jersey’s first African-American Lieutenant Governor.[7]

New Jersey Democrats had also hoped to attain a veto-proof majority (a “super majority”) in both New Jersey houses.  Under the New Jersey Constitution, two-thirds of the 40-member Senate and the 80-member General Assembly can override a governor’s veto.[8]  While the need to override a veto probably will not arise with a Democrat in the Governor’s mansion, a super majority in both houses would give the New Jersey Legislature de facto control over the Governor’s agenda.  In any case, Democrats currently have 24 seats in the Senate and 52 seats in the General Assembly, needing just three seats in the former and two in the latter to attain a super majority.  Democrats came close in the Senate by picking up two seats:  one based largely in Republican Monmouth County and another based in Burlington County.  But the Democrats failed to defend one of their own seats in swing Atlantic County, dooming their bid  for a super majority in the Senate.  Democrats were more successful in the General Assembly, winning the requisite two seats, picking off Republicans from Atlantic and Hunterdon Counties.

Democrats also did well at the county and local levels, picking up four freeholder (known as county executives in most other states) seats over three counties.  Likewise, Democrats picked up a mayoral seat in Atlantic City, ousting openly gay, Republican mayor Don Guardian.  One other race of note:  Ravinder Bhalla won a mayoral election in Hoboken, becoming one of the first Sikh mayors in the United States.[9]

While Democrat dominance is nothing new in deep blue New Jersey, Democrats may have hoped for better legislative results.  Democrats came within 10 points of unseating four Republican Senators and within 4,000 votes of unseating seven Republican Assemblymen.  Still, Mr. Murphy will have strong legislative majorities to implement his agenda, which includes legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana.[10]


Few other races were as exciting as those in Virginia and New Jersey.  Republican and Provo mayor John Curtis won Jason Chaffetz’s former seat in Utah’s ruby red third congressional district.  New York City easily re-elected Mayor Bill de Blasio, who won four of New York’s five boroughs (he lost reliably Republican Staten Island).  Republicans lost two New York county executive seats in suburban, swing Westchester and Nassau County, unseating Rob Astorino, the unsuccessful candidate for Governor in 2014.  Democrats also took back control of the Washington State Senate with the election of Manka Dhingra in Washington’s 45th District.  Finally, voters in Maine voted to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, with cities Portland and Bangor voting strongly in favor of the measure.  Maine Governor Paul LePage has signaled that he will not impose the Medicaid expansion notwithstanding the voters’ preference in the referendum.[11]


[1] Fenit Nirappil, Democrat Concedes Virginia House Race; Three Others Will Decide if GOP Holds Majority, Wash. Post (Nov. 9, 2017).

[2] Reema Amin, Simonds Gets Names of Rejected Absentee Voters, But Not Envelopes, Newport News Daily Press (Nov. 10, 2017, 5:10 PM).

[3] Antonio Olivo, Danica Roem of Virginia to Be First Openly Transgender Person Elected, Wash. Post (Nov. 8, 2017).

[4] Change in Party Performance, VPAP.org (Nov. 8. 2017).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Nate Cohn, Democrats Cheer, But They May Have to Do Better in ’18, N.Y. Times (Nov. 8, 2017).

[7] Sheila Oliver Becomes State’s First Black Lieutenant Governor, SNJ Today (Nov. 9, 2017).

[8] N.J. Const. art. V, § 1, ¶ 14.

[9] Julie Zauzmer, Targeted by Racist Fliers, Ravi Bhalla Becomes the First Turbaned Sikh Mayor in New Jersey, Wash. Post (Nov. 8, 2017).

[10] Susan K. Livio, With Phil Murphy’s Win, It’s ‘Full Steam Ahead’ for Legal Marijuana, NJ.com (Nov. 7, 2017, 8:28 PM).

[11] Nathaniel Weixel, Maine’s Governor Won’t Expand Medicaid Despite Approval of Ballot Measure, The Hill (Nov. 8, 2017, 12:07 PM).