Virginia Dems see election success as big step forward

Gov.-elect Ralph Northam’s experience “is in tikkun olam,” said Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (D-District 41), referring to the Hebrew term for repairing the world. File photo

A series of victories for Democrats in Virginia last week was cause for celebration among Jewish politicians in the commonwealth, as well as party members at the national level.

In the governor’s race, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) defeated Republican challenger Ed Gillespie on Nov. 7, 54 percent to 45 percent — a margin of about 230,000 votes. Northam’s win was complemented by a victory for Justin Fairfax (D) in the lieutenant governor’s race, the re-election of Attorney General Mark Herring (D) and a 15-seat gain for Democrats in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Republicans held 66 of the 100 seats in the House heading into the election but depending on the outcome of a few not-yet-called races, Democrats could gain a one-seat majority, or there could be a 50-50 split in that chamber.

“The direction we are heading led by No. 45 was not the direction people in Virginia want to go,” said Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (D-District 41), referring to President Donald Trump. “I think Virginia spoke loud and clear. It was an exciting night statewide.”

Filler-Corn said she thinks Northam’s record as lieutenant governor, along with his experience as a physician, will serve him well when he takes office as governor.

“His experience is in tikkun olam,” she said, referring to the Hebrew term for repair the world. He’s a pediatric neurologist. He’s seen the devastation guns have had to human beings. He’s a healer, and I’ve been incredibly proud to serve with him in the legislature.”

She added that the success of Democrats in the commonwealth’s down-ballot races can be viewed as a model nationally.

“What they can take away is that Virginia is a bellwether for 2018,” she said. “We want a commonwealth that is accepting.”

Democrats at the national level hope their party’s success in Virginia last week is a sign of good things to come heading into the 2018 midterm election cycle. At a launch party for a new Jewish Democratic organization in Washington on Nov. 8, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the Democratic victories in Virginia and New Jersey, combined with Trump’s lagging approval ratings, leave her optimistic.

“Any president of any party that is under 50 percent is in bad shape in terms of the next election one year in advance, because that’s when people decide if they’re going to run for office,” she said. “We get the A-team, they get the retirements, and so this is an open door. The president’s bad numbers and the victories last night opened the door wider for a Democratic victory next year. I feel pretty confident.”

Former Florida governor Charlie Christ (D) was also at the party and said he too thinks the 2017 results foreshadow a successful 2018. Still, nothing can be taken for granted.

“We’ve got to continue to work hard, but I’m very encouraged,” he said.

Also winning re-election on Nov. 7 in Virginia was District 53 Delegate Marcus Simon (D), who said he did not expect Democrats to win by such large margins.

“This is the beginning of the pendulum starting to swing the other way,” he said. “This is a reaction to Trumpism, and it’s also an affirmation that government can help lift people up.”

Simon said the past year has been “uncomfortable” for the Jewish community in Northern Virginia because of a series of anti-Semitic incidents: the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville; and a swastika that was drawn on the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia and a bomb threat made to Gesher Jewish Day School, both in Fairfax.

“After the 2016 election, people became suspicious about hate and divisiveness,” he said. “To see that approach to politics be rejected so soundly in Virginia was so uplifting.”

Simon said he was particularly encouraged by the diversity of candidates elected to the legislature, including Danica Roem, the first openly transgender person elected in Virginia. Also winning races were the first two Latina women elected in the commonwealth, Elizabeth Guzman and Haya Ayala, and the first Asian-American to win a seat, Kathy Tran.

“It shows that Virginians are focused on the quality of the person, regardless of color or sexual orientation,” Simon said. “Virginians are willing to judge people on the content of their character and not get bogged down in identity politics.”

State Sen. Adam Ebbin, a Democrat who represents District 30, said he was pleased by the composition of Democrats who won last Tuesday. Ebbin made history himself in 2011 by becoming the first openly gay member of Virginia’s legislature.

“I think that the Democrats who ran for the House are diverse and representative of Virginia,” he said. “To see people reflective of our population is a point of pride for the Democratic Party and for me.”

These Democrats said that Item No. 1 in the coming legislative term is passing Medicaid expansion — an accomplishment that has eluded Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) because Republicans controlled the legislature.

“We still have 400,000 Virginians who don’t have healthcare,” Ebbin said. “We’ve lost billions of dollars that have gone to other states instead. It will reduce healthcare spending and also bring jobs to Virginia.”

Staff writer Jared Foretek contributed to this story.

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