Trumpism was trounced Tuesday night in Virginia, New Jersey and Maine.
The rejection of President Trump’s agenda that grabbed the most headlines was the surprisingly sound defeat of longtime Republican operative Ed Gillespie in the Virginia governor’s race by the state’s Democratic lieutenant governor, Ralph Northam.
Gillespie, a longtime national party leader, ran a literally two-faced campaign, as a mild-mannered, establishment Republican on the stump, but as a virulently anti-immigrant, pro-Confederate extremist in campaign ads.
In the end, a majority of Virginia voters saw through Gillespie’s first persona and rejected the second, electing Northam by a nine-percentage-point margin.
In New Jersey, meanwhile, Democrat Phil Murphy won 55 percent of the vote to become the governor-elect, replacing the phenomenally unpopular incumbent Republican Chris Christie.
Murphy was supported by People’s Action member organization New Jersey Citizen Action, and ran on a platform that included support for a $15 minimum wage, access to health care as a basic right, and the creation of a state-owned bank that he says would invest in New Jersey communities.
In Maine, mini-Trump Gov. Paul LePage has sought to raise his own national profile by executing the Republicans’ drive to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, repeatedly refusing opportunities to expand health coverage in his state through the ACA.
Mainers cast a stunning rebuke to LePage’s heartless strategy, with 60 percent of voters overriding LePage to approve a ballot referendum to expand Medicaid in the state. This was a major victory for Maine People’s Alliance, the People’s Action member organization that put considerable resources into getting the referendum passed.
Eighteen other states run by Republicans have similarly blocked the expansion of Medicaid mandated by the Affordable Care Act, which would make health insurance coverage available to working-class families who do not have employer-based insurance and are priced out of the insurance market.
The Medicaid victory in Maine now paves the way for other states to demand more greater access to health care. Similar referendums are expected in Utah and Idaho in the coming year.
The Virginia election results were particularly notable for some down-ballot breakthroughs. Justin Fairfax, winning as lieutenant governor, becomes Virginia’s second African American to be elected to statewide office. The first was Douglas Wilder, who was governor from 1990 to 1994.
Danica Roem was elected the first trangender member of the state’s House of Delegates, defeating a veteran Republican who sought to pass an anti-transgender “bathroom bill” in the state.
Also, three candidates supported by People’s Action leaders in Virginia defeated incumbent Republicans: Chris Hurst (southwestern Virginia), Kelly Convirs-Fowler (Tidewater area) and Elizabeth Guzman (northern Virginia), one of two Latinas newly elected to the state legislature.
Another northern Virginia candidate who in his own words ran “to the left” of the Democratic Party establishment and was financially cut off by the party, Lee Carter, nonetheless defeated a senior Republican incumbent.
Voter turnout was reported to be high in much of the state, despite signs that Northam’s campaign was not generating excitement among progressive and left voters.
Some were turned off, in fact, by his unwillingness to oppose a controversial natural gas pipeline proposed for the state, his rejection of Medicare-For-All-style health care, and his willingness to oppose “sanctuary city”-designations for localities that opt to not deport undocumented residents who come forward to report crimes or seek essential government services.
Janice “Jay” Johnson, People’s Action board president and Newport News, Va., native, said she believed Gillespie’s campaign was hurt by the memories of the Charlottesville clash with white nationalists this past summer that resulted in the death of an anti-racism protestor. “The tactics that Gillespie is using would have played better with the general population had there not been Charlottesville,” she said.
Indeed, according to exit polls, 39 percent of voters would only trust Northam to handle race relations, while 23 percent said they only trusted Gillespie on the issue. But race did not turn up as a top issue in the Virginia exit polls. Health care, however, did register as the top issue for voters by a wide margin, and those who chose health care as the number one issue voted for Northam by an overwhelming margin. Northam does support Medicaid expansion in the state under the Affordable Care Act; Gillespie didn’t.
A Platform for All of Us
While Democrats found themselves with much to celebrate Tuesday night, Johnson is cautioning party leaders and candidates to take away the right lessons from the victories.
“Candidates need to get a grip on what’s happening in their communities,” she said, particularly poor people who have been left behind by today’s overall strong economy. “Where is their hope, and beyond hope, what are the actual measures or propositions to help their lives be better?”
While many of the progressive and People’s Action-backed candidates who won Tuesday night – including several in municipal races around the country – ran campaigns anchored in the Rise Up! platform unveiled at the organization’s April convention, Johnson highlights that the Democratic Party as a whole does not have a clear and bold agenda that can galvanize a new, working-class majority. “What is there to fight for as opposed to what is there to fight about?” she asked.