DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Democrats got some badly needed wins last night. The party took back the governorship of New Jersey and also held on to the governor's seat in Virginia. And that Virginia race was seen as a test of President Trump's popularity. Here's the winner, physician Ralph Northam.
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RALPH NORTHAM: Virginia has told us to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry and to end the politics that have torn this country apart.
GREENE: OK. I want to bring in NPR's Sarah McCammon, who covered this race. Hey, Sarah.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So everybody seemed to be looking at this race and saying there was going to be some broad lessons here. But this is just one state, right? So how much can we learn?
MCCAMMON: It's one state but, you know, it's more than one statewide race. For example, Democrats did much better than expected, not just in the statewide offices but also in the Virginia House of Delegates. And normally, we don't talk a lot about state House races at the national level, but this is significant because the House of Delegates - all 100 seats were up. And it had been controlled by Republicans, was expected to stay that way, but Democrats flipped a lot of seats. And control may come down to some local recounts.
Also those statewide offices - they did very well. Ralph Northam, of course, won. And that's despite some really sharp criticism from the liberal wing of his own Democratic Party in recent days. He did that, it looks like, by focusing, at least in part, on President Trump and, as we heard, calling for an end to hatred and bigotry and divisiveness. So this seems to show that at least in places like Virginia, which is an increasingly blue state, there is anti-Trump energy that Democrats can capitalize on if they organize.
GREENE: Well, I mean, speaking of the president, Trump never campaigned for the Republican candidate, Ed Gillespie, and Trump tweeted after the results came in that Gillespie, quote, "did not embrace me." But, I mean, how much can the president distance himself from this outcome in Virginia?
MCCAMMON: I would say not all that much in reality. Gillespie was pretty clearly trying to cultivate moderate voters while also turning out Trump supporters. And it is true that Gillespie and Trump never campaigned together, but Vice President Mike Pence campaigned with Gillespie. Trump did endorse Gillespie multiple times on Twitter in recent days and even recorded a robocall on his behalf. And while Gillespie was pretty buttoned down in his stump speeches, his ads focused on things like illegal immigration and law and order. So overall, David, he ran a really Trump-friendly general election campaign.
GREENE: Well, let's turn to the Democrats. I mean, you mentioned that there were some divisions within the party and Northam getting some criticism. Democrats trying to seem celebratory this morning, but, you know, should they be careful in terms of celebrating too much?
MCCAMMON: Right. Much like the Republicans, Democrats have their own internal divisions. Just days ago, some went as far as to call Governor-elect Northam racist for comments he made suggesting that he might oppose sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants. So it would be premature to say that this one election is going to erase all of that. Nationally, too, the Democratic Party is still divided over what happened in the 2016 primary. We see divisions between the more liberal, you know, Bernie Sanders wing represented by people by like Senator Elizabeth Warren and more moderate Democrats, like Ralph Northam, for example. So both parties are really figuring out where they go from here. And we will see that continue to play out next year in the midterms.
GREENE: All right. NPR's Sarah McCammon reporting on that Virginia governor's race and other races in that state. Sarah, thanks.
MCCAMMON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.