RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Democrats across America celebrated their partyâ€™s first major Trump-era victories on Wednesday, a day after Democrats seized wins in Virginia and New Jersey that tested the power of President Donald Trumpâ€™s fiery nationalism against the energy of the Trump resistance. In Virginia, as in several contests across America on Tuesday, the Trump resistance won. And it wasnâ€™t close.
In Virginia on Tuesday, Ralph Northam, a pediatric neurologist and Army veteran, defeated longtime Republican operative Ed Gillespie in the hard-fought contest.
â€śVirginia has told us to end the divisiveness, that we do not condone hatred and bigotry and to end the politics that have torn this country apart,â€ť Northam said in a Washington-area victory speech.
Northamâ€™s victory set off overnight recriminations and finger-pointing among Trumpâ€™s hardcore supporters. The pro-Trump website Breitbart News, which had earlier praised Gillespie as a â€śculture warrior,â€ť derided him as a â€śRepublican swamp thing.â€ť
Democrats also scored victories in the race for New Jersey governor and in Maine, where voters slapped the stateâ€™s Republican governor, a Trump ally, by backing a measure to expand Medicaid coverage under former President Barack Obamaâ€™s health care law. The Democratic mayors of New York and Boston, both vocal Trump critics, also won re-election easily.
And Virginia voters elected the stateâ€™s first openly-transgender state representative, among more than a dozen state legislative pickups for Democrats.
The resounding victories marked the GOPâ€™s most significant day of defeat in the young Trump presidency and a rebuke to the president himself as his party eyes a suddenly more threatening midterm election season next year.
The Democratic gubernatorial victories in Virginia and New Jersey prompted congratulations from Obama, who tweeted Wednesday morning, â€śThis is what happens when the people vote.â€ť Obama also congratulated â€śall the victors in state legislative, county and mayorsâ€™ races.â€ť
â€śItâ€™s a good morning to be a Democrat,â€ť Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said in a Wednesday conference call.
He said the key to his partyâ€™s success in Tuedayâ€™s elections was fielding good candidates and thorough organizing efforts.
â€śThis is not just one night. It is a trend,â€ť Perez continued. â€śThese victories represent movement to the Democratic Party across the country.â€ť
Trump immediately tried to distance himself from the loss.
â€śEd Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for,â€ť Trump tweeted Tuesday night as he toured Asia, noting that the GOP won a handful of special elections earlier in the year. â€śWith the economy doing record numbers, we will continue to win, even bigger than before!â€ť
Despite the criticism, Gillespie did, in more ways than one, embrace what Trump stands for, even if he didnâ€™t welcome Trump into the state to rally voters on his behalf.
The Republican president played a marginal role in Virginia, largely because Republicans on the ground did not want him there, a state he lost last fall, as his approval ratings hover near record lows. The White House instead dispatched Vice President Mike Pence to help Gillespie, although Trump promised Gillespie would â€śmake America great againâ€ť in a recorded phone message that went to voters on the electionâ€™s final day.
Gillespie, a former aide to President George W. Bush and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, largely reinvented himself as Election Day neared by adopting many of Trumpâ€™s racially-tinged nationalist positions. Gillespie warned of the dangers of the Hispanic street gang, MS-13, and highlighted its motto, â€śKill, Rape, Controlâ€ť in a television ad. The New Jersey native vowed to protect Confederate monuments. And he condemned the national anthem protests by NFL players, the vast majority of them black.
Liberal activists cheered their successes as evidence of the anti-Trump energy on the ground nationwide they have long insisted was real, despite poor results in special elections in deep-red Montana, Georgia and South Carolina.
â€śThis is the first fair fight weâ€™ve had. The special elections that weâ€™ve had so far have been incredibly slanted to the conservative side,â€ť said Ezra Levin, co-founder of the liberal group Indivisible, which had hundreds of volunteers and a handful of paid staff on the ground in Virginia. â€śThere is a wave building. And 2018 is just around the corner.â€ť
In New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy trounced Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who served under the term-limited, deeply unpopular GOP Gov. Chris Christie.
New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, among several Democrats weighing a presidential bid in 2020, cast his partyâ€™s gubernatorial victories in New Jersey and Virginia as â€śthe very first statewide rebuttal of the Trump administration.â€ť
â€śWe will not succumb to the politics of fear,â€ť Booker declared.