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Election takeaways: Democrats find big dose of good news

| Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, 1:39 p.m.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to sign off on Medicaid expansion in his state.
Associated Press
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to sign off on Medicaid expansion in his state.
Virginia Gov.-elect, Ralph Northam holds a news conference at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017. Northam defeated Republican Ed Gillespie in Tuesday's election.
Virginia Gov.-elect, Ralph Northam holds a news conference at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017. Northam defeated Republican Ed Gillespie in Tuesday's election.

NEW YORK — Democrats woke up to a big dose of good news Wednesday as they dissected election results from around the country. One year after the surprise election of President Donald Trump, there were plenty of encouraging signs for Democrats trying to travel the road to recovery. Some key election takeaways.

Trump resistance is real

After a series of losses in red-state special elections, Democrats finally had the night they needed to prove the much-discussed "Trump resistance" movement can be an electoral force. They notched a showy win in the Virginia governor's race, where Ralph Northam won by nearly nine points. The New Jersey governor's race was a Democratic blowout. Maine voters approved a Medicaid expansion that was seen as a referendum on former President Barack Obama's health care law. And Manchester, New Hampshire, elected its first Democratic mayor in a decade. Activists emboldened by Trump's victory have long claimed they had the power to change elections. They finally proved it at the ballot box.

Trumpism without Trump didn't pan out

Just before Election Day, former Trump strategist and Breitbart boss Steve Bannon credited Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie of Virginia with rallying behind the president's agenda, saying a perceived boost in the polls was an indication that "Trumpism without Trump can show the way forward." But the opposite may be true. Gillespie may not have fully embraced the president, but he did his part to court Trump voters — including embracing the president's rhetoric on Confederate monuments and kneeling by NFL players during the national anthem. He even received an Election Day boost from Trump himself in the form of robocalls that declared Gillespie "tough on crime and on the border." But it was all for naught, as the lobbyist and former official in President George W. Bush's administration was trounced by Northam.

Look out down ballot

It may not have garnered as much attention, but Democratic gains in state houses could lead to lasting political consequences in Washington. That's because state governments control redistricting, the once-every-decade process of redrawing congressional districts. The GOP controlled the vast majority of state houses in 2010 and used that edge to create advantageous political maps in many cases. If Tuesday's results are a harbinger of what's to come, Democrats may be poised to flip the script. In Virginia, Democrats picked up at least 14 House seats, and the state House majority remained in reach with a handful of races still too close to call. In Washington state, Democrats need to pick up just one seat to control the state Senate. Democratic activists are vowing to redouble their efforts in down-ballot races going forward.

Trump, GOP may have suburban voter problem

In Virginia, Gov.-elect Northam more than doubled Hillary Clinton's margin of victory, and the results can't be solely attributed to anti-Trump enthusiasm. The GOP is showing signs of struggle in the suburbs, where Trump already had run weaker in 2016. That's a sign of trouble for the party before the midterms. Take Chesterfield County, Virginia, a reliably conservative suburb of Richmond, where Gillespie underperformed even Trump. It will take weeks to precisely diagnose the drop-off in GOP support. But in recent years, the GOP has relied heavily on suburban votes to maintain safe seats in Congress, as they've used redistricting to carve out more favorable districts for the party. An erosion of support in those strongholds could have dire consequences for the party.

Tax reform just got harder

It was never going to be easy for Trump and his allies in Congress to overhaul the nation's tax laws. Facing a wall of Democratic opposition, GOP leaders have to persuade virtually every Republican member to support their tax plan. Some members serving in swing districts already were nervous. After Tuesday, it's hard to imagine that vulnerable Republicans across New York, New Jersey and California are more willing to take a risk on taxes or any major policy that could hurt their constituents. Blue-state Republicans already have raised concerns that the current House tax plan largely wipes away the deduction for state and local taxes, which could be a major problem for residents and business in high-tax states. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican, said Wednesday that it's more important than ever for his party to pass a tax bill. For some of his members, it's also more risky.

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