Social Justice

As Goes Virginia, So Goes Nevada? Notes on the 2017 Election Results

Until now, there’s been a lot of speculation over how voters would respond to President Donald Trump’s actions and Congressional Republicans’ agenda. Yesterday, voters in Virginia, New Jersey, and other states provided some answers. One year after Trump himself won the Presidential Election, voters across the nation rebuked Republicans who campaigned on Trump’s platform.

What does this mean for our own election next year? Let’s review last night’s results, and examine the clues they have for us in Nevada.

What led to Democrats’ historic sweep in Virginia?

Going into yesterday’s Gubernatorial Election, national pundits asked whether “Democrats were blowing it” against the Republican nominee, Ed Gillespie, who ran a Trumpist campaign that emphasized anti-immigrant race-baiting and love for Confederate monuments. Instead, Democrat Ralph Northam outperformed the polling average and led his party to their best result in over three decades.

How did they do it? It’s worth noting that Northam, along with Lt. Governor-elect Justin Fairfax (D) and Attorney General Mark Herring (D), ran on a platform of reining in gun violence, defending women’s reproductive health care, protecting LGBTQIA civil rights, and addressing climate change. Not only did Northam match Hillary Clinton’s strong 2016 performance in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, but he outperformed Clinton in most of the rest of the state.

In addition to sweeping the statewide offices, Democrats pulled off the unthinkable in gaining at least 16 state legislative seats. Going into this election, Republicans held a near supermajority in the House of Delegates. But now, Democrats are within striking range of flipping the chamber. Among the candidates who won are Danica Roem (D), the nation’s first openly transgender state legislator, and Chris Hurst (D), a former news anchor who became more politically active after he lost his fiancee to gun violence.

Trumpism lost “big league” in New Jersey, too.

New Jersey’s new Governor-elect, Phil Murphy (D), openly campaigned on defending immigrant communities from Trump’s deportation agenda, enacting a $15 minimum wage, legalizing marijuana, embracing progressive tax reform, and strengthening the state’s public infrastructure. Murphy promised resistance to Trump’s agenda, and Garden State voters rewarded him with an easy double-digit victory.

Hoping to replicate Gillespie’s apparent success in closing the gap against Northam, New Jersey Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno (R) took a similar hard-right, anti-immigrant turn in her run to succeed Governor Chris Christie (R). Like Gillespie in Virginia, it didn’t work for Guadagno in New Jersey. Instead, Republicans lost the Governor’s Mansion and lost ground in the Legislature.

Progressives won on both coasts

The biggest state legislative election outside the Eastern Seaboard was in Washington State. Manka Dhingra (D) flipped a previously Republican held open seat in the Seattle Eastside suburbs, giving Democrats full control of the Legislature. Like many of the Democratic candidates in Virginia and New Jersey, Dhingra campaigned on gun violence prevention, progressive tax reform, and protecting women’s health care. She also endorsed a carbon tax, and her victory likely empowers Governor Jay Inslee (D) to pursue a multi-state climate action plan with California and Oregon.

On the other end of the country, Mainers turned out to reject their Governor’s strident opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare). Despite Governor Paul LePage (R) campaigning against it, over 58% of Maine voters chose to accept ACA Medicaid expansion. Once the ballot initiative is enacted, some 89,000 Mainers will have access to health care through Medicaid.

What does this mean for Nevada?

Nevada did not have any elections yesterday, but we may have our own special elections if the Republican recalls against three State Senators are allowed to proceed. And no matter what happens in the recalls, Nevada will probably be one of the most closely watched states next year.

For one, Senator Dean Heller (R) is already facing strong headwinds heading into 2018. Even though he’s voted with Trump’s position 90% of the time, Heller’s occasional strays from the Trump party line have landed him in hot water with Trump loyalists who are backing Danny Tarkanian over him in the Republican Primary. Yet the more Heller ties himself to Trump on everything from health care to tax cuts, the more he risks alienating moderate voters he needs to survive a general election.

And then, there’s Adam Laxalt (R). The newly minted Gubernatorial candidate has made no effort to distance himself from Trump. Instead, Laxalt has taken a hard line against gun safety legislation, immigrant civil rights, protecting public lands, and even the 2015 tax reform package that Governor Brian Sandoval (R) championed. If a full embrace of Trumpism didn’t work for Ed Gillespie or Kim Guadagno in their respective Gubernatorial races, how can Adam Laxalt make it work here?

Of course, plenty can change in the next year. But if 2018 looks anything like 2017, then Heller, Laxalt, and Nevada Republicans further down the ballot have plenty of reasons to worry. Yesterday’s election was many voters’ first chance to weigh in on the Trump agenda, and they decisively rejected it. If Americans continue to sour on Trump and Trumpism, it won’t be long before this giant blue wave hits Nevada.
Cover photo by Edward Kimmel, made available by Wikimedia, and licensed under Creative Commons.

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