Democrats say they have the momentum going into the 2018 elections after a successful day at the polls Tuesday, claiming victory in 22 previously Republican-controlled towns in Connecticut, including Southington, and taking gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey.
State and national party leaders said Wednesday that the success is the result of higher participation from Democrats and frustration over President Donald Trump’s leadership.
“I’ll be the first to say that it is a good morning to be a Democrat,” Tom Perez, national Democratic chairman, said during a conference call. “It’s even more important to be a good American because we’re taking our country back from Donald Trump one election at a time.”
State Democratic head Nick Balletto made similar remarks in a statement Tuesday night, saying the results “send a message” to Republicans, and that Democrats will continue to attack them over Trump.
“We will capitalize on this momentum to mount a strong effort in 2018 and beyond,” he said.
State Republican Chairman J.R. Romano acknowledged that Democrats had a successful election night, but he chalked up the outcome to the old adage that “all politics are local politics.”
He said some of the Democrats’ success, such winning the Bristol mayoral race, were the result of incumbents dealing with turmoil or scandal. He also said some Republicans merely lost because their own towns were struggling, and not because of any kind of referendum on Trump’s first 10 months in office.
He also noted Republicans had some success, taking control in a handful of towns that include Norwich, Montville, and Derby, and that Democrats are merely trying to fire up their base.
“I understand why they’re celebrating, they need to show their base, to perpetuate their constant state of rage,” Romano said.
Romano’s remarks haven’t stopped Democrats from expressing excitement for 2018, when Connecticut will elect a new governor and when Congress will hold midterm elections. Aside from the results, they point to higher than normal voter turnout as a sign that residents are frustrated with Trump.
They also point to success in Republican strongholds — control in Glastonbury and Farmington, or significant gains in Virginia’s House of Delegates — as signs of future success. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who joined Perez’s conference call, said the party is looking to take back statehouses in 2018 with an eye toward 2020, when voting districts will be redrawn.
“If we want to unrig this map, we have to have more results next year like we had last night,” he said.
Quinnipiac professor Scott McLean said it is normal to see the party that lost a presidential election rebound the following year, and again in midterm elections. He said the success Connecticut Democrats experienced Tuesday is not usual, though, especially given voter dissatisfaction with how the Democrat-controlled legislature handled the budget, and Malloy’s own approval rating.
University of Connecticut professor Ronald Schurin had a similar analysis. He said Democrats will have to “play a very careful and creative game” to continue distancing themselves from Malloy.
“You can only play that game so far,” he said. Both professors said Democrats have reason for excitement beyond the mere results, though.
McLean said the fact that Democrats saw higher turnout in competitive districts seems to support their argument that voters are motivated by a dissatisfaction with Trump. He also said that would make Trump’s approval rating, currently in the high 30s, problematic for Republicans who don’t want to alienate his base.
“The Republicans are about to paint themselves into a corner,” he said, noting Republican Ed Gillespie, who lost the Virginia gubernatorial race, tried to align himself with some of Trump’s policies.