The blue wave that crashed Virginia’s suburbs on Tuesday could also – if it extends into the 2018 midterm elections – carry Democrats into control of the House.
Ralph Northam’s victory in the Virginia governor’s race highlighted a night of Democratic wins in mayoral and legislative races fueled by higher turnout than most non-presidential elections and much stronger performance by the party’s candidates in suburban areas.
In Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock’s northern Virginia district, Northam won by 13 percentage points. He also won Republican Rep. Scott Taylor’s Norfolk-based district.
In those districts, Democrats see mirror images of some of their top House targets in 2018 – including Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman east of Denver, Minnesota Rep. Erik Paulsen in the Minneapolis suburbs, and swaths of seats in New Jersey, the Philadelphia suburbs and in Orange County, California.
“You can’t really look at tonight’s results and conclude that Democrats are anything other than the current favorites to pick up the U.S. House in 2018,” tweeted Dave Wasserman, the House editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, which closely tracks each race.
Democrats need 24 seats to win the House. Most of the focus is on the 23 seats currently held by Republicans that were won by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Sensing a possible wave, the party has recruited a slate of candidates across every potentially competitive race. A Campaign Finance Institute analysis found that 145 Democratic challengers have raised more than $100,000 so far – more than double the number of Republicans who’d hit that mark at this stage in the 2010 cycle.
Virginia’s results could accelerate the pace of House Republicans’ retirements, too – just like a spate of Democrats in competitive districts retired at the beginning of the tea party insurgency after the GOP’s win in Virginia in 2009.
On Tuesday, Rep. Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey announced he’d retire, opening up one toss-up seat. Other retirements that guarantee competitive races include Rep. Dave Reichert of Washington and Rep. Iliana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida.
So far, 11 House Republicans are retiring rather than running for re-election in 2018, and others, including Rep. Martha McSally in Arizona, are considering running for statewide office in part because re-election in their own competitive districts is no safer bet.
At the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rep. Ben Ray Luján – the committee’s chairman – was burning up his phone lines Tuesday night.
Luján called dozens of Democratic recruits for House races, asking if they were watching the Virginia results. Other potential candidates called Luján first. Political director Jason Bresler and other staffers kept handing him names and numbers.
A Republican involved in House campaigns, meanwhile, said the results raise the stakes even higher for the GOP’s tax reform push. For Trump and congressional Republicans, a tax reform bill’s passage would be the first major legislative achievement since winning unified control of the White House and Congress in 2016.
Tuesday night’s win by Northam gave Democrats a long list of data points to buoy their hopes for 2018.
Northam won by 20 percentage points in northern Virginia’s Loudoun County – where Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe had won by just 5 points in 2013. He virtually tied Gillespie in conservative Chesterfield County, a Richmond suburb that is usually a Republican stronghold.
Down-ballot Democratic wins across the nation told the same story. In Virginia, Democrats won most competitive state legislative races. In Washington, they won a Seattle-area Senate seat that gave the party full control of the state government. In Charlotte, North Carolina, and St. Petersburg, Florida, they won hotly contested mayoral races.
In Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s New Jersey district, the Republican Parsippany mayor and two council members were ousted in an unexpected sweep for Democrats.
“Tonight was the start of a revolt from college-educated white voters and the uprising of people of color against Donald Trump,” Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson, who ran the DCCC’s independent expenditure arm in the 2014 campaign, said late Tuesday night.
Virginia governor’s races, Ferguson noted, have forecast big changes in the national landscape before. In 1993, Republican George Allen won the office after three Democratic terms the year before the GOP would sweep into control of the House. In 2009, Republican Bob McDonnell’s win came a year before the tea party insurgency handed Republicans the House again in 2010.
“Virginia is the best early-warning system in politics and, if I was a Republican representing a suburb, I wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight because a storm’s a-brewin’,” Ferguson said. “In the last 50 years, one thing is true every time one party flips the House: They had started by winning Virginia governor’s race in the year before.”