Why Virginia election results aren't a huge disaster for Trump and the GOP

  • There's no denying it: The Democrats won big in Virginia.
  • But this is a state that's been swinging for the Democrats for almost two decades now.
  • President Trump needn't worry so much about Virginia, but he should be concerned about Democrat organizing and get out the vote efforts.

Democrat Ralph Northam's victory in the Virginia governor's election tells us a lot about Virginia, but not much about anywhere else.

Northam absolutely won a strong victory, especially since he nearly doubled the margin of victory his fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton earned in winning the state in the 2016 presidential election. And Northam was not alone as Democrats also won the elections for lieutenant governor, attorney general, and apparent control of the state House of Delegates. What's more, one of those victorious Democrats in a House of Delegates race was a transgender candidate who defeated a Republican incumbent who sponsored a bill restricting transgender people from using bathrooms of their choice in government buildings.

The consensus take on the sweeping wins for the Democrats in the Old Dominion is that this is a repudiation of President Donald Trump, his policies, and his political tone.

Not exactly.

What the election results really prove without a doubt is that Virginia is now undeniably blue. The Democrats have won the state three straight times in presidential elections, four of the last five governor's elections, and the once solid red state even has two Democrats representing it in the U.S. Senate.

The reasons this has happened are a series of demographic and political factors that were in motion long before Donald Trump became a candidate.

On the demographic side, Virginia's non-white population grew from 22 percent of the population to 28 percent between 2009 and 2013. And the population is also getting younger. The size of the population ages 18-29 has jumped from just 15 percent to 19 percent since 2009. Both younger voters and non-white Americans are simply less statistically likely to vote for any Republican.

Politically, Virginia has increasingly become a bastion for the establishment. Thanks to lucrative D.C.-area lobbying jobs and the rock-solid job security Virginia's large number of federal government workers enjoy, the state is chock full of residents who rely on Uncle Sam. And with the federal government still growing robustly over the past decades under both Republican and Democratic administrations, that establishment base is getting bigger.

A significant portion of the population there doesn't like the sound of this outsider threatening their way of life. Imagine if Trump came into Michigan and bashed autoworkers, or showed up in Florida and bashed Social Security. Bashing the government and Washington insiders might work in many parts of America, but the growing population of Northern Virginia especially sees it as an understandable threat.

In that sense, the Northam and other Democratic Party wins in Virginia are more of a continuation of the 2016 results in that state that went to Clinton in 2016 even as its neighbor North Carolina went for Barack Obama in 2008, and swung back to Trump last year. Virginia is simply different.

The results also don't mean that Virginians of all backgrounds are rejecting the nastier political tone that both President Trump and his staunchest opponents continue to embrace. That opposite is true because there were plenty of new lows met in this race.

A Latino group supporting Northam aired a controversial ad showing scared minority children being chased by a truck with a "Gillespie for governor" sticker and a Confederate flag. The Democratic Party in Virginia also sent out a mailer showing President Trump and Gillespie with pictures of white supremacists marchers inserted below them. And Gillespie repeatedly took a Trump-like tone in trying to tie the murderous MS-13 gang to policies Northam supports.

That is not to say that the Trump team can just brush off Virginia's election results as a non-event. The excellent state-wide organization and get out the vote efforts definitely played a role in increasing Northam's margin of victory and swinging some of the close House of Delegate races. Those are key lessons the Democrats will surely try to bring to other states.

And if there is a silent army of Trump supporters out there, it clearly wasn't big or strong enough to stem the anti-Trump tide in Virginia.

No, Virginia cannot be considered a red or even a swing state anymore. The White House can only hope the story is different in states that aren't undergoing Virginia's unique series of changes.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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