Democrats are projected to score a pair of major gubernatorial victories Tuesday, based on ABC News’ analysis of the exit poll and analysis of the vote, landing new governors in New Jersey and Virginia as they attempted to showcase party resilience one year after President Donald Trump’s surprise election victory.
In Virginia, which was expected to be the closer of the two races, Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam is projected to prevail over former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, based on ABC News’ analysis of the vote, while in New Jersey, former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy is projected to beat Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, based on ABC News’ analysis of the exit poll.
The Virginia race, in particular, took on the air of a referendum on Trump throughout the campaign. The state’s status as a swing state in presidential years and the stark divide between its suburban northern region and rural Appalachian southwest turned it into a representative test case on the country’s response to the two major political parties a year after electing the former real-estate mogul.
Though Trump had not personally campaigned for the Republican in Virginia, Northam’s campaign attempted to tie the president to Gillespie, banking on Trump’s unpopularity in the state to help secure the fourth gubernatorial victory for Democrats in the past five Virginia races.
In New Jersey, sweeping backlash to the deeply unpopular Gov. Chris Christie became the driving force behind Murphy’s election campaign. The former ambassador’s first run for elected office found him tying Christie to his lieutenant governor, Guadagno.
The New Jersey election was dominated by talk of the governor, who is among the least popular in U.S. history, based on polls of his job approval. Murphy had argued that a Guadagno governorship would represent a continuation of Christie’s tenure, while Guadagno pointed to moments of disagreement with her boss to attempt to distance herself from the two-term governor and former Republican presidential primary candidate.
Trump was notably quiet on the race in the traditionally blue state where Murphy led Guadagno by consistent double-digit margins in polls ranging back to the spring. Recent polls showed the Democrat with a lead of between 10-15 points.
Surveys of Virginia voters showed a markedly closer race, with Northam out-polling Gillespie by as much as 9 percentage points in one poll, while falling within the margin of error of another.