In the first major election since U.S. President Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, Democrats took back the majority in the House of Representatives, and Republicans maintained their hold on the Senate amidst a flurry of close races, upsets and history-making firsts.
In Virginia, it was the Democrats’ night to celebrate. Incumbent senator and former vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine cruised to victory over Corey Stewart, the Prince William County supervisor with hardline conservative beliefs that distanced him from the national Republican establishment. Kaine was widely expected to win and was announced as senator within an hour of polls closing. In the House races, Democrat Jennifer Wexton defeated long-time incumbent Barbara Comstock in the 10th District, the first Democrat to hold Congressional office in that district since 1980, and Abigail Spanberger defeated Republican Dave Brat in the 7th District, the first Democrat to hold that seat since 1971.
However, none of these elicited such effusive excitement on campus as the result of the congressional race in the 2nd District. Elaine Luria, a Navy veteran worked as a Surface Warfare Officer and nuclear engineer, entered Tuesday as a three-point underdog to Scott Taylor, the Republican incumbent. FiveThirtyEight Editor-in-Chief Nate Silver gave her only a 33 percent chance of winning. But as the night progressed, Elaine’s early lead held strong. Taylor resurged toward the end, casting the result into question, but Luria was declared the victor before midnight. It was a shocking win, and along with Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey the first time female graduates of the Naval Academy have been elected to Congress.
The College of William and Mary played a part in this result, as many members of the William and Mary Young Democrats interned and volunteered for her campaign by knocking on doors and phone banking, and organizations like NextGen led voter registration efforts.
Each party emerged with genuine claims to victory. Democrats emphasized their reclamation of the House for the first time since 2008 and the governorships of swing states Wisconsin and Michigan, and Republicans highlighted their continued control of the Senate and a gubernatorial win in Ohio, along with a tentative gubernatorial win in Florida, which is still contested due to claims of voter suppression. Democratic enthusiasm, coupled with a record turnout among women and racial minorities, produced what many have termed a “blue wave” of Democrats taking office.
“The House of Representatives gain we got was way more than I expected,” Cody mills ’20 said. “This is what the blue wave was.”
“I personally think [the blue wave] happened,” Young Democrats President Cody Mills ’20 said. “The turnout of Democratic voters was overwhelming. … It turned out to the best we could have expected. The House of Representatives gain we got was way more than I expected. This is what the blue wave was.”
However, Republicans have been quick to point out that the net gains for Democrats have been well below the historical average for the opposition party in midterm elections, questioning the extent to which liberals truly rallied against an embattled President Trump in the face of historic trends.
“Even though we lost 29 seats in the House, I don’t think that’s the massive blue wave that a lot of left-leaning outlets were talking about,” Young Republicans member Kellyn McKee ’22 said. “It’s pretty standard for the president’s party to lose seats in the midterms.”
Democratic party officials have promised to use their newly gained power to more closely oversee the actions of the Trump administration, including the Special Counsel’s inquiry into Russian collusion, the separation of migrant children at the border and the investigation into Trump’s tax returns. A politically divided government offers both a real possibility of political gridlock and a chance at effective oversight by an opposition party.
At the gubernatorial level, Democrats will gain either seven, eight or nine seats depending on final vote counts and recounts. Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate running to serve as governor of Georgia — who would be the first black woman to serve in that role — is facing a possible runoff with Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who was lambasted throughout the campaign for possible conflicts of interest regarding racial culling of voter rolls. In Florida, Andrew Gillum initially conceded to Republican Ron DeSantis but has since withdrawn his concession and is demanding a recount. Democrats won solidly in Nevada, New Mexico, Maine, Illinois and surprisingly in Kansas, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Tuesday was also a victory for underrepresented groups. 100 women won races for House seats, the highest tally to date. Democrats Sharice Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, and Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo people, will become the first Native American congresswomen. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar will become the first Muslim congresswomen. Jared Polis will become America’s first openly gay governor in Colorado, Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia will be the first Hispanic women Texas has sent to the House and Marsha Blackburn will become Tennessee’s first female senator.
Ballot initiatives also produced civil rights advances, as Florida restored the voting rights of 1.4 million felons, Colorado forbade prisoners from being forced to work and Arkansas and Missouri raised their minimum wages. Members of the Young Democratic Socialists of America chapter on campus emphasized that these election results are largely due to the efforts of local community organizers.
“The organizers and communities who fought to empower marginalized people, against all odds, deserve to be recognized as heroes,” YDSA member Josh Messite ’20 said in a written statement.
Correction: This article has been amended to reflect that Elaine Luria was a Navy veteran, not a former Marine pilot.