It’s no surprise that Ralph Northam defeated Ed Gillespie. I was surprised, though, that the race wasn’t close, and I think most analysts were surprised that Northam won so comfortably (by at least 8 points, it looks like).
With hindsight we can say that this was a race between two uninspiring candidates who needed, somehow, to inspire support. Northam inspired support because of raw hatred for President Trump. Gillespie tried to inspire it by taking a hard line on immigration (sanctuary cities) and crime. Apparently, to no avail.
The Trumpian line will be that a Trumpian candidate could have inspired support the way Trump did last year. That’s quite possible.
But Trump himself lost Virginia by 5 points. Thus, it’s very likely that a Trumpian candidate would have come up short this year.
Some will point out that Ken Cuccinelli, a strong conservative, ran a much closer race for governor four years ago without much support from the GOP establishment in Virginia. That’s true too.
However, the climate was much better for Republicans in 2013-14 than it seems to be now. Then, President Obama inspired Republicans to get out and vote. Now, President Trump seems to inspire Democrats to do so.
Gillespie himself nearly beat Sen. Mark Warner in 2014.
What does tonight’s outcome tell us about 2018? I think it says (or confirms) that 2018 will be a challenging year for Republicans. The GOP will nominate more than a few Ed Gillespies — good people, but uninspiring traditional candidates who will have to get out the Trumpian vote and still appeal to swing voters.
They likely will face opponents who aren’t walking that kind of tightrope and who can count on hatred of Trump to bring out their supporters in droves. Thus, many traditional-style GOP candidate, including some incumbents, will have their work cut out for them.
The GOP will also nominate some out-and-out Trumpians. These candidates will likely prevail in jurisdictions like Alabama, where Judge Moore is favored in his Senate race. In traditional battleground jurisdictions, they too will probably have their work cut out for them.
In the meantime, Republicans needs to accomplish more in Congress, starting with tax reform.