Democrats win big, in blow to Donald Trump one year in

Thursday November 9 2017

Donald Trump.

US President Donald Trump makes a speech during a business leaders' event in China on November 9, 2017. Democrats won several high-profile state and mayoral elections as Trump marked his one year election anniversary on November 8, 2017. PHOTO | NICOLAS ASFOURI | AFP 

By AFP
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WASHINGTON

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday marked one year since his shock election win, but Democrats spoiled the anniversary by dealing him a resounding defeat in several high-profile state and mayoral elections.

Ousted from the White House and enduring opposition status in Congress since Hillary Clinton's humiliating loss on November 8, 2016, Democrats bounced back on Tuesday night with their biggest election victories of the Trump era.

WIN

They won gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia — the latter the scene of a command performance by progressives up and down the ballot — which analysts said could signal trouble for Trump's Republicans in next year's congressional mid-terms.

Democrats won mayoral races in New York and Boston, as expected, but also in cities like Manchester, New Hampshire; Fayetteville and Charlotte in battleground North Carolina; and Florida's St Petersburg.

An Indian-American became the first Sikh mayor of a New Jersey city, Hoboken, while Virginians elected their state's first openly transgender House of Delegates member.

Some of the results were expected, as in Virginia, which neighbours the capital Washington and has trended blue in recent years.

POPULARITY TEST?

But the 8.5 percentage point victory margin for governor-elect Ralph Northam over his Trump-endorsed rival, Ed Gillespie, stunned analysts who did not expect so thorough a repudiation of Trump's combative politics.

"We're taking our country back from Donald Trump one election at a time," Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez said, adding that voters were "punishing Republicans for dividing our country."

The results could emerge as a test of the unpopular president's influence ahead of the 2018 mid-term elections and the 2020 presidential contest.

They were also victories the party had been craving, having failed to win any of the five high-profile special elections for House of Representatives seats earlier this year.

TWEET

Apart from a tweet criticising his party's gubernatorial candidate in Virginia, Ed Gillespie, because he "did not embrace me or what I stand for," the president himself appeared unfazed by the results.

Instead, he tweeted his thanks to Americans who elected him one year ago, including the "deplorables" criticised by Clinton during their toxic campaign.

"Congratulations to all of the 'DEPLORABLES' and the millions of people who gave us a MASSIVE (304-227) Electoral College landslide victory!" Trump posted on Twitter from China, during his nearly two-week trip to Asia.

One salve for Republicans was their candidate John Curtis's victory in a Utah congressional race to replace the retired Jason Chaffetz.

RATINGS

Elsewhere, Democrats successfully mobilised to boost turnout in traditionally blue regions like populous northern Virginia, where Democratic candidates received upwards of 80 per cent of the vote.

It was "a backlash to Trump and Trumpism, pure and simple," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

Aware of Trump's toxicity — his approval ratings are at historic lows — Gillespie did not personally embrace or campaign with Trump. But he did mimic Trump tactics, releasing advertisements addressing culture-war issues like illegal immigration and the fate of Confederate Civil War monuments.

Corey Stewart, a rightwing Trump acolyte who narrowly lost the Republican primary to Gillespie, said the establishment Republican had failed to motivate Trump's core supporters.

"I think he made a mistake by not inviting the president to campaign for him," Stewart told AFP.

A Gillespie win would have served to validate Trump's aggressive style, and form a blueprint for how mainstream Republicans can fight for Trump issues without embracing the controversial man himself.

AGENDA

In South Korea, the president meanwhile trumpeted American successes on the anniversary of his election.

"The United States is going through something of a miracle," Trump told the South Korean National Assembly, citing the record-setting US stock market, declining unemployment, and the battle against Islamic State extremists.

But congressional Republicans have not succeeded in pushing through some key planks of Trump's agenda.

They have failed to repeal and replace healthcare reforms known as Obamacare, and the prospects for the latest big-ticket item, tax reform, are cloudy in Congress.

REFERENDUM

House Speaker Paul Ryan said the Democratic victories have not changed his "reading" of the moment.

"If anything, this just puts more pressure on us to follow through," he said.

But some Republican lawmakers were interpreting Tuesday's thrashing as a warning.

"Last night was a referendum" on Trump, Republican congressman Scott Taylor of Virginia told CNN. "I don't think there was any way you could look at it a different way."