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Democrats Get Their First Big Wins Since Trump's Era Began


One year ago, Americans went to the polls and elected Donald Trump as president. Our politics team has been looking at what that has meant for the country and where we're headed next. Elections yesterday might have given us some clues. Democrats got their first big wins of the Trump era, winning the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey, among other statewide victories. We're going to talk through what it means with NPR's political editor. Domenico Montanaro is with us. Hey, Domenico.


MARTIN: Let's start with Virginia. Walk us through what happened there.

MONTANARO: Well, Ralph Northam, who's the Democratic candidate there who a lot of Democrats were worried was sputtering toward the finish, actually won a resounding victory, some nine points, which is the widest margin, frankly, in decades for a Democrat to win the governorship. And clearly, Rachel, what happened here was you had the resistance finally chalk up its first win of the Trump era. You know, further...

MARTIN: So people just turned out to vote because it had been so close, that race.

MONTANARO: Absolutely, it had been. Well, you know - look, here's the thing. I sort of was dismissing the polling because the way I look at Virginia is it's a three- to four-point Democratic advantage just starting out with the demography of the state. You know, Hillary Clinton won it once. Barack Obama won it twice. It's trended much more Democratic. So I sort of put the polling aside a little bit, you know, look and see who's going to win. And I think that a lot of Democrats learned that lesson of 2016 to sort of put the polls to the side and make sure you turn out to vote.

And we saw that voting was really important because, I got to tell you, there is a race right now where only 12 votes are separating the Democrat and Republican in the race that could determine control of the state House, which would give, if Democrats were to win that, give them control of redistricting to determine the congressional seats and those districts and how they're drawn in 2021.

MARTIN: So if you look on Twitter this morning, there's a whole lot of celebrating from Democrats. I mean, yes, they're clearly just celebrating the victories themselves. But what do Democrats see in these particular victories that they're really excited about?

MONTANARO: Well, the fact is that for those who say that nothing seems to matter when it comes to President Trump and, you know, what he does or what he says, this shows that line of thinking is just not true. You know, no president's been more unpopular to this point in his presidency since polling began than Trump. And Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, we have to remember, by 3 million votes, and she did that in places like Virginia, like New Jersey, in the suburbs.

And what it shows Republicans, elected Republicans, in these places that Democrats hold or in the suburbs that that kind of Trumpism has its limits. You can't run as a Republican - a lot of the lessons that a lot of Republicans will take is that you can't run as a Trump Republican in places like Virginia, like New Jersey, in places - in suburbs with highly educated voters, that that message just doesn't resonate and it has its limits.

MARTIN: Although we should note President Trump said, hey, Ed Gillespie, Republican in Virginia, you lost because you didn't hold me close enough.

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, that's a little bit of spin. I mean, it's - you know, President Trump didn't win Virginia in 2016.

MARTIN: Right. So we've got a midterm election coming up - 2018. How much do these special elections tell us about what is likely to happen?

MONTANARO: I mean, I always have my caveat that special - and this wasn't a special election, you know. This is an actual statewide election unlike...

MARTIN: Right.

MONTANARO: ...The last four elections that we had seen. But, you know, it's always my caveat that you're not sure. You don't want to read too much into these kinds of elections, but I will say that this at least gives Democrats the chance to reset, to regroup, to think about what their affirmative message will be going forward to 2018. It certainly portends a very close 2018 midterm.

MARTIN: Democrats needed a win, to say the least.

MONTANARO: Absolutely, no question about it.

MARTIN: NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.