MANHATTAN (CN) – Democrats turned out big across the East Coast on Tuesday for the general election, displacing Republican candidates in several local and state offices.
In Virginia, where the close contest for governor was seen as a referendum of the Trump presidency, Democrat Ralph Northam handily defeated former GOP committee chair Ed Gillespie.
A pediatric neurologist and Virginia’s current lieutenant governor, Northam vowed at a campaign celebration Tuesday night at George Mason University to work for a more inclusive commonwealth.
“Today, Virginia has told us to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred or bigotry, and to end the politics that have torn this country apart,” Northam said. “It’s going to take a doctor to heal our differences … and I’m here to let you know, the doctor is in.”
A handful of races are still too close to call Wednesday morning, but the Democratic Party also appears poised to seize control of the commonwealth’s House of Delegates. Democrats have picked up 14 of the 17 seats they would need to retake the chamber for the first time since 1975.
“It really is an unprecedented result we’re seeing,” House Democratic Caucus Leader David Toscano said.
Of the five seats that remain too close to call, Democrats claim they’ve won at least two of them. All will still be eligible for recounts if candidates request them.
In one race, only 12 votes separated Republican Delegate David Yancey and Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds.
In New York, one of the Empire State’s most closely watched races included New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s election to a second term.
A Democrat whose name was smeared recently in a former union leader’s ongoing corruption case, de Blasio swept the competition, beating out Republican contender Nicole Malliotakis, as well independent candidate Bo Dietl and Reform Party candidate Sal Albanese.
Other incumbents in the city who largely locked down their races include Controller Scott Stringer and three borough presidents, all Democrats.
Democrats Cyrus Vance and Eric Gonzalez were also re-elected to be district attorneys in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
One incumbent who lost was Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, a two-term Republican ousted by Democratic challenger George Latimer.
New Yorkers across the state meanwhile soundly defeated a proposition to hold a constitutional convention, with public employee unions having spent millions on a campaign that cast the proposal as a backdoor effort to clawback pensions.
On another proposition that lets judges revoke the pensions of public officials convicted of felonies related to their jobs, however, the state voted yes by just as wide a margin.
The third proposition on the ballot was a closer call, with New Yorkers voting 52-48 to empower upstate governments when it comes to using 250 acres of forest land for local projects. New York must add 250 other acres to the preserve as compensation under the proposal.
New Jersey was dominated by the race for governor, with incumbent Chris Christie slinking out of office on historically low approval ratings after exhausting term limits.
Christie’s critical unpopularity is believed to have played a large role in keeping Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno from succeeding him; she lost the election narrowly to Democratic banking executive Phil Murphy.
Branding is also believed to have carried the day for Democrats in Connecticut, winning town council majorities in several bastions of Republican power including Farmington, Glastonbury and Trumbull. Farmington has not been controlled by Democrats for nearly 20 years and Glastonbury for 14 years, according to a report by the Hartford Courant.
The state’s governor is not up for election until 2018, which is the same for those offices in New York and Massachusetts.
Apart from mayoral elections, Massachusetts voters on Tuesday rejected a ballot question that would have shaken off the Salem’s status as a sanctuary city.
“The Salem vote … underscores the need for Massachusetts to adopt a statewide policy to protect our communities from the Trump deportation machine, rather than relying on the existing patchwork of policies that vary from city to city,” Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a statement with staff counsel Laura Rotolo. “Today, we once again call on the Massachusetts legislature to pass the Safe Communities Act, which would ensure that all cities are as welcoming as Salem has shown itself to be.”
Maine meanwhile became the first state Tuesday to expand Medicaid by ballot initiative, essentially expanding Obamacare on the heels of successive failures by congressional Republicans to repeal the law otherwise known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The state’s outspoken Gov. Paul LePage has cast at least five vetoes of bipartisan legislative deals to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, the Washington Post reported.
Medicaid-expansion referendums are expected next year on the ballots in Alaska and Idaho.
Virginia also notched a civil rights win Tuesday with its election of the state’s first openly transgender lawmaker, Danica Roem.
A former journalist, Roem will make history as the first openly transgender person elected and seated in a state legislature, according to the political action committee Victory Fund.
Roem’s predecessor, Bob Marshall, is one of the Virginia chamber’s longest-serving and most conservative members. Earlier this year, Marshall sponsored a bill that would have limited the bathrooms transgender people can use.
Several right-wing outlets appeared to lash out Wednesday at the string of Democratic wins.
Breitbart News, which had earlier praised Virginia’s unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Gillespie as a “culture warrior,” derided him this morning as a “Republican swamp thing.”
And Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, called for the annexation of northern Virginia’s voter-rich liberal suburbs to the District of Columbia, saying it would “return the governance of VA to Virginians.”
A mix of record off-year turnout and a highly energized base appears to have been the key to the Democratic successes. Several voters told Courthouse News on Election Night that President Trump’s divisiveness on issues ranging from immigration, gay rights and health care, motivated them to get to the polls.
Courthouse News reporter Brad Kutner contributed to this report from Virginia.