Democrats are celebrating wins in the two biggest races on election night 2017. The party will hold the governors' offices in New Jersey and Virginia. The Virginia race was causing Democrats worry in the final days.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
It's election night, and for the first time in a while, Democrats are celebrating. In the two big governors races of 2017, the Democratic candidates have won. That was expected in New Jersey, but the Virginia race appeared to be tightening in the final days. Still, it was called for Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, the Democrat, fairly early in the evening. President Trump took to Twitter and criticized the Republican candidate, Ed Gillespie, the former Republican national chairman, for not fully embracing him - that is president Trump.
We are joined now by NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro. Hiya.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there, Robert.
SIEGEL: A very good night for the Democrats - how important are these wins for them?
MONTANARO: It's a big night across the board for Democrats. You know, a lot of the momentum seemed to be on Gillespie's side, a lot of people were thinking going into the final days. Democrats were very nervous, not paying attention to the polls there (laughter) probably with good reason given 2016. And then they went and had a bigger night than was expected.
You know, in Virginia, Democrats are also hoping to try and take back the House of Delegates. They've won, you know, a dozen seats there. They need 17. And there's still a few races out there. And there's also - Virginia elected the first trans woman in the country who's a state legislative official, and she ran on bread-and-butter issues...
MONTANARO: ...Basic local issues, economic issues and, you know, dear to your heart, Robert, traffic in Northern Virginia.
SIEGEL: (Laughter) In Northern Virginia. We should recall that Virginia did go for Hillary Clinton in the presidential race unlike some other - the states that were thought to be more Democratic. Given that, I mean, and given the fact that the Republicans were confident of how things were going for them, what do you think turned the race for Northam in the end?
MONTANARO: Right. Well, this is a major place that Democrats needed to win. I mean, they needed to be able to say that they were - you know, if they want to have any chance next year in the midterm elections, that they could win in a place that Hillary Clinton won. You know, and there was this big Democratic divide that had been highlighted, but the big thing here is President Trump.
I mean, let's be honest. If you look at his approval rating in the exit polls, he only had a 40 percent approval rating, 57 percent disapproving, which mirrors what's happening nationally. Clearly Democrats were fired up. Just 16 percent who went to the polls said that they were voting for President Trump, double that saying they were voting against him - so a big rebuke of President Trump even if he's out there on Twitter tonight saying that, hey, remember; we won those four other special elections earlier this year.
SIEGEL: Is there anything else we can take away from tonight's results looking ahead to the midterm elections next November?
MONTANARO: It definitely gives Democrats a chance at a reset. You know, everyone likes each other when they're on a winning team, as we know. Vulnerabilities and fissures - all of those things are amplified when you lose. So this was important for Democrats if they're hoping to regroup together. They were able to show that the anti-Trump energy is real. Now they have a chance to work on an affirmative message moving forward. You don't want to read too much into one election. That's always my big caveat. But if Democrats hope to have any chance next year, they have to win in places like this.
SIEGEL: And again, the news this evening on election night 2017 was Democratic victories for governor both in New Jersey and also in Virginia. NPR's Domenico Montanaro, thanks a lot.
MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.