After Virginia, New Jersey wins, Democrats still have work to do

Overcoming a barrage of culture war-style attacks from his Republican rival, Ed Gillespie, Ralph Northam retained Virginia’s governorship for the Democratic Party by an estimated margin of nearly 9 points on Tuesday.

This margin is clearly bigger than what the final polls indicated in the days leading up to Election Day. In the now reliably Democratic state of Virginia, the Real Clear Politics average in the days leading up to Election Day indicated that Northam held an advantage of more than 3 points. In fact, the unofficial results on Tuesday night indicate that Northam outperformed Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSchiff blasts Trump for making 'false claims' about Russia intel: 'You've betrayed America. Again.' The problem with Trump's Middle East peace plan Trump's Intel moves spark Democratic fury MORE’s 2016 results in the commonwealth.

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To Northam’s favor, minorities turned out in higher levels than predicted, and President Trump, to the extent that he was a factor in the contest, proved to have a negative impact on Gillespie. Further, in reliably Republican counties in western Virginia, Northam managed to hold down his losses, which was crucial to his victory.

In terms of policy, Northam promoted a moderate platform that centered on an alternative agenda for Virginia and surely not the same brand of liberal progressive politics as that promoted by Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenPoll: Sanders leads 2020 Democratic field with 28 percent, followed by Warren and Biden More than 6 in 10 expect Trump to be reelected: poll Sanders has wide leads in two of three battleground states: survey MORE and Bernie SandersBernie SandersSchiff blasts Trump for making 'false claims' about Russia intel: 'You've betrayed America. Again.' Buttigieg campaign claims 'irregularities' in Nevada caucuses Poll: Sanders leads 2020 Democratic field with 28 percent, followed by Warren and Biden MORE. It is my view that the Democratic Party must advance a similar, if not identical, platform in order to win back Congress in 2018 and also have success in 2020.

Throughout the course of the Virginia campaign, Northam was never beholden to the Democratic Party’s loudest, most liberal voices, as evidenced by his shift on sanctuary cities just last week. In fact, he defeated the progressive base’s preferred choice in the June primary. Northam put forward an economic plan focused on innovation and growth, involving job training and retraining programs, as well as steps to protect the Democratic Party’s traditional values on women’s issues and gun violence prevention.

In terms of the Gillespie campaign’s strategy, the cultural rhetoric that marked his candidacy greatly contributed to the heightened negativity of the election. Further, President Trump’s role in the Gillespie campaign largely hindered, rather than helped, Gillespie’s candidacy, despite the clear commonalities between the strategies of the two politicians.

Of course, President Trump’s role in competitive campaigns will continue to be a critical issue approaching the 2018 midterm elections. Democrats in particular must continue to embrace the policy alternatives and centrist positions that propelled Northam’s success. Without taking such steps, Democrats will continue to struggle to regain power nationally, as well as to win back control of governorships and state legislatures.

In terms of the Democratic Party’s success in New Jersey, Phil Murphy, former Goldman Sachs executive and U.S. Ambassador to Germany, defeated incumbent Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno by an estimated 14 points. Murphy’s victory also means that if U.S. Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezMenendez calls for 'Marie Yovanovitch bill' to protect foreign service employees Senators condemn UN 'blacklisting' of US companies in Israeli settlements Media's selective outrage exposed in McSally-Raju kerfuffle MORE, a New Jersey Democrat, is forced to resign from office next year, he would be replaced by a Democrat, and the current balance of the U.S. Senate would remain.

To be sure, New Jersey’s flip to a Democrat in the governor’s mansion is largely a result of the unpopularity in the state of both outgoing Republican Gov. Chris Christie and President Trump. Most recently, Christie’s job approval rating had dipped as low as a paltry 14 percent, negatively impacting Guadagno’s candidacy. In sum, regardless of its predictability, Murphy’s win is an important pickup for the Democrats.

However, these victories alone will not change the ingrained issues in the Democratic Party overnight. Indeed, more can and must be done in order for the party to win back more governorships nationwide, to win back control of state legislatures, and to return to power in Washington.

Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. A longtime political consultant, he is also a Fox News contributor and the author of 11 books, including “Putin’s Master Plan: To Destroy Europe, Divide NATO, and Restore Russian Power and Global Influence.”