8 min read

Wake Up To Politics - November 8, 2017

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Wednesday, November 8, 2017. 363 days until Election Day 2018. 1,092 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

In today's newsletter: election results; North Korea; gun control; tax reform; the one-year anniversary of the 2016 election + more.

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Democrats Win Virginia, New Jersey Governorships In Off-Year Election Sweep

Democrats notched election victories across-the-board on Tuesday, a key sign of momentum after a string of demoralizing losses since President Trump's election one year ago. In the night's most closely-watched race, the Virginia gubernatorial election, Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam triumphed over former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie by 8.6 percentage points, 53.7% to 45.1%, a larger-than-expected margin.

Northam's win came as Democrat Philip Murphy also easily won back New Jersey's governorship, taking over after Republican Gov. Chris Christie's two terms and beating his lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, 55.4% to 42.5%.

Fueled by support in the state's northern suburbs, Northam was ushered to victory in an anti-Trump wave that punished Gillespie's so-called "Trumpism without Trump" strategy. Gillespie, a onetime lobbyist and well-known establishment figure, didn't appear with Trump during the campaign, but adopted much of his "culture wars" strategy, running advertisements on Confederate memorials, the MS-13 gang, NFL players kneeling, and sanctuary cities. That strategy failed on Tuesday, a sign to Republican candidates in 2018 that such a balancing act may be impossible with a President facing historically low approval ratings and few legislative achievements to boast of.

"I do believe that this is a referendum on this administration," Rep. Scott Taylor (R-VA) told reporters on Tuesday, pointing to Trump's "divisive rhetoric" as the reason for Democratic gains.  

The results were a clear rejection of Trump and his brand of politics, exit polls confirmed. 51% of Virginians said they voted to send a message to President Donald Trump: 34% to express opposition to him, compared to 17% who voted to express support for him. Trump's approval rating among Virginia voters was similarly lopsided, with 40% saying they approved of his job performance and 57% saying they disapproved.

Far more Virginia voters (39%) pointed to health care as the issue most important in deciding their gubernatorial vote; Northam won these voters handily, 77% to 23%.

In deep-blue New Jersey, Trump's approval rating stood at just 36%, compared to a disapproval rating of 63%. In a race where the President was also a constant presence, 28% of voters said they were voting to oppose Trump, while 11% of voters said their decision was an expression of support for him.

Virginia exit polls also showed increasing enthusiasm for Democrats among many key demographics: Northam bested Clinton in 2016 among women voters, winning 16% to 39% (Clinton won the women vote in Virginia 56% to 39% last year) and among 18- to 29-year-olds, winning 69% to 30% (Clinton won the group 54% to 36%).

President Trump distanced himself from Gillespie on Tuesday night, tweeting that the former RNC chief "worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for," despite Trump's declaration earlier in the day that GIllespie "will totally turn around the high crime and poor economic performance" in the state. "We will continue to win, even bigger than before!" Trump promised in his Tuesday night tweet.

However, Virginians also installed a Democratic lieutenant governor and re-elected a Democratic attorney general, an electoral sweep that seemingly cements the party's control over the once-battleground state. In a sizable show of strength and energy, Democrats picked up at least 12 seats in the state's House of Delegates on Tuesday; beating 17 Republican incumbents, the amount needed to flip the chamber to Democratic control, is still possible with a number of close races yet to be decided. A Democratic take-over of the chamber would have a huge impact on the party's 2020 redistricting effort and other key issues.

Democrats won in the closely-watched 13th district, with Danica Roem defeating 26-year Republican delegate Bob Marshall to become the first transgender person elected to a U.S. state legislature.

Except for an expected loss in Utah's third congressional district, Democrats boasted a number of other electoral victories for progressive candidates and causes across the country. Bill de Blasio, a national leader for progressives, was elected to a second term as mayor of New York City. Joyce Craig became the first female mayor of Manchester, New Hampshire (and the city's first Democratic mayor in 12 years), after receiving boosts from high-profile Democrats including former Vice President Joe Biden. Charlotte, Noth Carolina elected its first African-American female mayor, Vi Lyles, while Wilmot Collins became the mayor of Helena, Montana, the first African-American mayor in the state's history. Maine voted to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, the first state to do so by ballot initiative.

Democrats also scored multiple victories in New Hampshire state House special elections and recaptured the Washington state Senate after spending months one vote short of a majority. If the party wins the Virginia state legislature, it will have gained full control of the Washington state and Virginia governments on Tuesday.

"The new Democratic Party is back," Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez declared at Northam's victory party. "And we're back with a bang."

The across-the-board victories are a positive sign of Democrats' ability to turn energy for the anti-Trump "resistance" movement into votes, and should strike fear into vulnerable Republicans ahead of the 2018 midterms. In fact, many of those GOP incumbents are leaving office instead of facing re-election: two more Republican congressmen announced plans to retire on Tuesday. Blasting "increasing political polarization," Rep. Frank LoBioiondo (R-NJ) announced on Tuesday that he will step down after 12 terms, joining a number of House GOP moderates. Hours later, seven-term Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) announced he was heading for the exits as well, declaring "it's time for the next step."

While Poe's seat is reliably Republican, LoBionodo's retirement provides a key pick-up opportunity for Democrats as the party turns to 2018 energized after wins in Virginia and New Jersey.

Trump Sends Message to Kim Jong Un in South Korean Address

President Donald Trump addressed the South Korean National Assembly on Tuesday, but much of his remarks were aimed squarely at an audience of one: dictator Kim Jong Un. "The weapons you are acquiring are not making you safer," Trump said to Kim. "They are putting your regime in grave danger. Every step you take down this dark path increases the peril you face."

Although he did not employ some of the harsher rhetoric he has in the past -- stopping short of calling Kim "rocket man" or threatening "fire and fury" -- Trump described the North Korean regime in graphic detail. While he praised the cultural achievements of South Korea, "the Korean miracle extends exactly...24 miles to the north," he said. "There, it stops; it all comes to an end. Dead stops. The flourishing ends, and the prison state of North Korea sadly begins."

Trump laid out the conditions that North Koreans live in -- "They would rather be slaves than live in North Korea," the President said -- saying that the state's leaders "imprison their people under the banner of tyranny, fascism, and oppression," while labeling North Korea "a country ruled as a cult" and "a hell that no person deserves." Trump attempted a chance at a glimpse of that regime earlier Tuesday, planning to make an unscheduled visit to the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas but forced to turn around by heavy fog.

Promising that the United States would "defend our common security, our shared prosperity, and our sacred liberty" in face of North Korea's nuclear threats and urging all "peace-loving nations" to join, Trump's speech sent a clear signal to Kim. "Do not underestimate us," the President warned North Korea, "and do not try us."

One Year Ago...

The 2016 presidential election was exactly one year ago. Here's what I wrote that morning: "There is no guarantee that polling will be correct, but most major polls are showing Clinton with some lead... Meanwhile, in the swing states, the race is as close as ever, and in some states trending in the other direction... In other words: plenty of those states are going to be close, and while the national popular vote may seem trended for Clinton, both candidates have a path to Electoral College victory based on how those states shake out..." Trump, of course, ended up winning all of those swing states, while Clinton triumphed in the popular vote.

"UPSET: TRUMP ELECTED, POISED TO BECOME 45TH PRESIDENT," the headline in Wake Up To Politics declared the next day.

Relive Election Day 2016...

  • "The Untold Stories of Election Day 2016," via Esquire
  • "Inside Donald Trump's Election Night War Room," via GQ
  • "The day that changed everything: Election 2016, as it happened," via CNN

And the year that was...

  • "Trump has tweeted 2,461 times since the election. Here's a breakdown of his Twitter use," via USA TODAY
  • "The Year in Push Alerts: How breaking news became our lives," via Slate

And the year that could have been...

  • "Trump’s year of anger, disruption and scandal," via Politico
  • "'I will be president for all Americans.' One year ago, Trump promised a presidency that hasn’t happened," via Washington Post

The President's Day

President Trump continues on his 12-day, five-nation Asia tour. He is currently in China, a high-stakes visit giving Trump another opportunity to expand on his relationship with President Xi Jinping.

Vice President's Schedule

Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Mike Pence will travel to Sutherland Springs, Texas today to "meet with families of the fallen, injured and law enforcement" after the mass shooting at a local church killed 26 and wounded 20 more. Pence's visit comes after Sens. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) introduced legislation on Tuesday to ensure that the military transfer records on individuals in its ranks with domestic violence convictions to the federal background checks database.

The Texas shooter, Devin Patrick Kelley, was able to acquire firearms due to the U.S. Air Force's failure to submit his history of domestic assault to the database.  

Also today: the House Judiciary Committee receives a briefing by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) on bump stocks, which the agency is unlikely to move to prohibit, adding pressure on Congress to act.

Today in the Senate

The Senate is expected to consider two more executive branch nominations today, continuing its recent blitz. The chamber will hold votes related to the nominations of Peter Robb to be General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and William Wehrum to be Assistant Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for AIr and Radiation.

Today in the House

The lower chamber is scheduled to vote today on the Veterans Crisis Line Study Act, the Veterans Fair Debt Notice Act, and the Hydropower Policy Modernization Act.

Also today... the House Ways and Means Committee holds its third day of marking up the Republican tax reform legislation. Especially in light of losses suffered on Tuesday, the tax reform bill is a must-pass for GOP legislators going into the 2018 midterms with few other legislative achievements. The bill received another Republican "nay" vote - the sixth, according to NBC - when Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) announced that he would not vote for the legislation in its current form.

Issa joins other GOP lawmakers from high-tax states, including New York and New Jersey, who have criticized the plan's elimination of the deduction on state and local taxes.


I incorrectly stated New Jersey's nickname on Tuesday. It is the "Garden State." My apologies, and thanks to the many who reminded me.