Washington CNN —  

Tuesday night was very big for Democrats as the party won the governors’ races in Virginia and New Jersey and scored a series of other victories from Maine to Washington State that suggests the forces opposed to President Donald Trump turned up in large numbers to send a message that they weren’t happy with how he is doing the job.

Democrats – and Governors-elect Ralph Northam (Virginia) and Phil Murphy (New Jersey) in particular – were big winners.

But who were some of the less obvious winners – and losers! – on Tuesday? That’s where I come in! Below are my picks for the best and the worst of the night that was.

* Ralph Northam: In both the Democratic primary earlier this year and again Tuesday night, Northam overperformed expectations. There were lots and lots of Northam doubters in Democratic circles – he’s too boring! He won’t sell in northern Virginia! – I talked to in the final 72 hours of the race. But Northam’s country doctor routine worked its magic again. Northam may well be the most underrated politician of the year. And kudos to his campaign team – led by manager Brad Komar – for running a race that was both true to Northam’s centrist roots and a winner.


* Terry McAuliffe: The outgoing Virginia governor is a popular presence in the state and Northam, generally speaking, ran on a message of continuing the McAuliffe legacy. It worked. And McAuliffe, because he’s McAuliffe, was quick to take credit for it in an interview with CNN even before the results were known. If you don’t think Tuesday’s results in Virginia don’t make it more likely McAuliffe runs for president in 2020, you don’t know Terry.

* Doug Jones: If there was any question about whether national Democrats should fund Jones’ special Senate election race later this year against Roy Moore in Alabama, Tuesday night’s results probably took care of that. Given the activation of the Democratic base – particularly non-white voters – and Moore’s divisiveness, Jones looks like less of a long shot today than he did Tuesday.

* Joe Biden: The former vice president was very active on the stump for 2017 Democratic candidates – including Northam, Murphy and Jones in Alabama. During a visit to Virginia for Northam in mid-October, Biden told the crowd: “You have to win to … give people hope we are not falling into this know-nothing pit.” And, in the wake of the election results Tuesday night, Biden tweeted this: “A resounding defeat tonight for President Trump. Voters around the country rejected the ugly politics we have seen this past year. Instead, they chose candidates who unite and inspire us.” Sounds a lot like a line from a Biden 2020 speech, no?

* Donna Brazile: If Northam had lost or Democrats more broadly would have underwhelmed at the ballot box on Tuesday, the story of Democratic division – and Brazile’s new book that lays much of it bare – would be the only thing that people would be talking about. Now, there’s a much better narrative for Democrats out there and the inconsistencies between Brazile’s book and her recent public statements about the campaign are likely to recede into the background.

* NoVa suburbs: The winning formula for Democrats in Virginia is now shockingly simple: Run up the score – bigly – in northern Virginia. Northam beat Gillespie by 212,000 votes in Arlington (+52,000), Fairfax (+137,000) and Loudoun (+23,000). His statewide margin? Two-hundred and thirty-two thousand votes.

* Tom Perriello: The former congressman lost his primary challenge to Northam earlier this year. Rather than remain embittered and sitting out the rest of the race, Perriello signed out with an political organization – Win Virginia – that aimed to reduce Republicans’ 66-34 edge in the state Assembly. Led by Perriello, Democrats did much more than that; a real possibility exists that they will hold 50 seats in the Assembly when all the votes are counted. That’s a stunning achievement.

* Virginia Department of Elections: The vote count was amazingly fast. And the website allows you to search back to 1789 in its election results data. I mean, that rules.


* Donald Trump: The President tweeted shortly after Gillespie’s loss insisting that if the GOP nominee had only hewed closer to him, the results might have been different. There’s simply no empirical evidence in exit polling or the raw data that suggests that contention to be true. Half of the Virginia voters said Trump was a factor in their vote on Tuesday, with twice as many saying they wanted to send Trump a message of opposition as said they wanted to send him a message of support. In places like Loudoun and Chesterfield counties – exurban and suburban, respectively – Gillespie badly underperformed past GOP nominees. Adjusting for all variables, it’s hard not to see how that difference is primarily attributable to Trump.

* “Trumpism without Trump”: In the hours leading up to polls closing in Virginia, the idea – floated by former Trump White House chief strategist Steve Bannon – that Gillespie would prove you could run and win on Trump’s idea if you took Trump’s personality out of the equation was rampant. Then Gillespie got trounced. What Tuesday night in Virginia showed is that most voters outside of the GOP base simply don’t distinguish between support for Trump personally and support for Trump’s agenda. It’s all the same to them. And it’s bad.

* Chris Christie: The election results in New Jersey were a sort of final nail in Christie’s political coffin. Christie’s lieutenant governor – Kim Guadagno – was swamped under by the historic unpopularity of Christie. Just 22% of New Jersey voters approved of how Christie has handled his job. Among those who strongly disapproved of Christie, Murphy won 81% of the vote. Guadagno tried to run away from Christie and his toxic legacy in the state but it didn’t work. Christie now faces a political future filled with not-so-good options. He almost certainly can’t run for office in New Jersey for a very long time to come and his close association with Trump has hurt him badly in the eyes of GOP establishment types. Christie’s best hope is some sort of gig in the White House – a real possibility given the staff carousel in the Trump administration.

* Paul LePage: The Maine governor repeatedly vetoed efforts by the state legislature to take federal Medicaid expansion dollars under Obamacare. On Tuesday, a ballot measure passed overwhelmingly that will allow 80,000 more Mainers to join Medicaid. LePage is term-limited out of office next year anyway but has repeatedly floated the idea of running for Senate or some other office. Tuesday’s results throw a monkey wrench into those plans. LePage, as of Wednesday morning, was saying he would refuse to implement Medeicaid expansion even after Tuesday’s vote. Which is odd.

* Bernie Sanders: The Vermont independent weighed into the Virginia Democratic primary for Perriello. After Perriello lost, Sanders disappeared. He didn’t endorse Northam, who was more centrist-minded than Perriello (and Sanders). “Our Revolution,” the political organization that grew out of Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, didn’t get involved for Northam either. That’s not a good look Wednesday morning, with Democrats celebrating their best election night since 2012.

* The Republican brand: In Virginia, just 30% of the electorate identified as Republicans. In New Jersey, it was just 29%. That gave self-identifying Democrats a double digit edge in each of those states – suggesting that Republicans didn’t turn out to vote or just didn’t want to tell an exit pollster they identified with the Republican party. Either way, it’s not good if you are a Republican strategist trying to figure out how to win in 2018.

* Barbara Comstock: Comstock has held the 10th district, which includes much of the affluent suburbs stretching west from Washington, DC since 2014. The size of the Northam victory in and around Comstock – he carried her seat by 13 points – has to make her one of Democrats’ top targets heading into 2018. Comstock might want to rethink her decision to pass on a challenge to Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine next year.