Were The Virginia And New Jersey Elections Referendums On The Trump Presidency?

blow up image of map of state of Virginia

by Richard Cameron


Donald Trumps presidential approval ratings

are down nationally and have been trending downward since he took office. The elections on Tuesday – particularly in Virginia and New Jersey, were being viewed as a test of his potency in the mid-term elections in 2018.  What the results in those states revealed, has the Trump administration deeply concerned, even if Trump himself is attempting to dismiss them.

In last night’s gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, voters rejected Republican candidates for governor of those two states.

In New Jersey, the GOP candidate, Lt. Gov., Kim Guadagno was behind in late polling by 16.5 points to Democratic nominee Phil Murphy. On election night, however, the margin was smaller (13 points), although still not close – Murphy with 55 percent of the vote and Guadagno with 42 percent.

The Democrat, Murphy, ran less against Guadagno, than he did against Donald Trump and Trump’s highly visible supporter, outgoing GOP Governor, Chris Christie. Of Trump, Murphy said, in the final hours before the election:

“We will stand firm for New Jersey’s values and push back against the mean winds blowing at us from Washington D.C.,” Murphy said, decrying “mean-spirited actions to gut our health care.  We will stand with steeled spines and simply say and firmly say ‘with all due respect, Mr. President, you will not do that in the great State of New Jersey.”

Most political analysts believe the margin by which Murphy won last night would have been even larger, had Trump or Pence actively campaigned for Guadagno in the state.  As it was, the Trump political organization stayed away, in part because of Ms. Guadagno having repudiated Trump during the presidential election cycle.

Guadagno herself, opted to make a case to New Jersey voters without the baggage of Donald Trump – who has measurably less support in the state among Republicans than elsewhere nationally. Trump considered the polarity mutual, based on his lingering anger over Guadagno’s comments last year. Commentary Magazine noted:

“[The president] is unhappy with anyone who neglected him in his hour of need,” said a source billed as an RNC insider. The specific complaint arises from an October 8 tweet from the lieutenant governor said that “no apology can excuse” Trump’s “reprehensible” conduct on the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape.

The result in Virginia left even less open to interpretation. Democrat candidate  Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam defeated Republican, Ed Gillespie by 9 percentage points in a state that pollsters maintained was too close to call and dependent on voter turnout.

Gillespie took traditional GOP areas of the state, rural Virginia, but in the suburbs, both Gillespie and down ballot Republicans got clobbered.  A Democrat Marine vet beat the state House Majority whip and a couple of female Hispanic Democrats unseated GOP incumbents in Prince William County.

In another notable reversal, a social conservative was beaten by Danica Roem a transgender woman who campaigned in opposition to her opponent Bob Marshall – a 14 term legislator who had introduced a ban on transgender access to public restrooms.

During the election, Trump made an effort to bolster Gillespie, even though Gillespie was thought to be not much more than lukewarm about the president.

Vice President Mike Pence also campaigned in the state:

The winner in the governors’ race is making Trump the key factor in his victory, saying in his election night acceptance speech, “Virginia has told us to end this divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry – and to end the politics that have torn this country apart”.

It was a central part of the campaign strategy as well, tying Gillespie to Trump in campaign literature mailed to targeted voters and broadcast ads. Gillespie ran in part, on Trump narratives like immigration, criticism of NFL sideline protests and questioning the need to remove Confederate-era statues.

After the election, from the tone of Trump’s  post mortem on Gillespie, if one did not know otherwise, they would have gotten the impression Trump had no involvement with the Gillespie campaign whatsoever.

In interviews with reporters after the race was called, Virginia GOP House member Scott Taylor said, “I don’t know how you get around that this wasn’t a referendum on the administration.  Some of the very divisive rhetoric really prompted and helped usher in a really high Democratic turnout in Virginia.”

Republican strategist Mike Murphy told The New York Times:

We now know what a lot of us in the party already knew: The Trump message is a big loser in swing states and he hurts the [Republicans] far more than he helps in those states.

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