One under-reported item in the analysis of Tuesday’s election has been the kind of candidate Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam was in Virginia; specifically, from the Republican point of view, what kind of candidate he was not.
Northam was not the candidate Republicans hoped to see emerge from his Democratic Party primary contest against liberal darling Tom Perriello. Unlike the new-era Bernie-ites who have no sense of how government works (Georgia’s Jon Ossoff comes immediately to mind), Northam is an experienced, sensible and mostly thoughtful candidate.
And it is worth noting that in 2017’s marquee races for mayor of New York, governor of New Jersey and governor of Virginia, the winners were all stylistically similar Democrats. Attacking them as leftists is challenging. Northam in particular wasn’t a good “bad guy” for Republicans. He wasn’t the stereotype Republicans hope to see.
Republicans get ourselves worked up about the Democrats’ fealty to grievance groups such as Black Lives Matter, Antifa, etc. But none of that imagery was present in Northam’s persona. In fact, days out from the election, Northam showed that he has some flexibility in distancing himself from the left’s corrosive positions on matters such as sanctuary cities, and it does not appear to have eroded any of the Democrats’ turnout.
With that said, Northam’s win in Virginia makes asking the question, “Who will the Democrats nominate in 2018?” all that more pressing. Throughout the country, Democrats have become increasingly emboldened in their use of identity politics to create fissures within American society. But in Northam’s case, he is a reassuring character who doesn’t seem threatening to affluent Republican suburbanites. And while we’re at it, the same can be said of someone like Doug Jones, the Democrats’ candidate for Senate in Alabama. I still think Roy Moore will win, but I’ve spent some time at home in Alabama recently and have been surprised by the number of “Doug Jones for Senate” yard signs cropping up. Of course, every Southern politician always thinks they can forecast an election by anecdotal yard sign visibility. That’s almost always wrong.
So, I don’t know if Republicans are deceiving themselves or if Northam and Jones are the last of their kind, but I am left wondering whether the Democrats are going to nominate the extremists Republicans are hoping for.
In politics, everything is just talk until there is an election. And on Tuesday night, Democrats proved they are still capable of nominating a reasonable, non-threatening character. But will that extend beyond Virginia to other races throughout the country in 2018? I’m not sure. Either way, Republicans should reflect on Tuesday’s election and realize that we shouldn’t believe too much of our own spin. After all, not every Democrat is a caricature.
Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush White Houses and several national campaigns.