By Associated Press
Updated: November 7, 2017 8:54 PM ET | Originally published: November 8, 2017

(RICHMOND, Va.) — Voters in Virginia and New Jersey gave Democratic gubernatorial candidates large victories Tuesday and sent a clear message of rebuke to President Donald Trump.

In Virginia’s hard-fought contest, Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam defeated Republican Ed Gillespie. In New Jersey front-running Democrat Phil Murphy overcame Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno to succeed unpopular GOP Gov. Chris Christie.

Northam rode to victory in part by tapping into voters’ regret at Trump’s victory in last year’s national election. Murphy had an easier pathway in New Jersey, where Guadagno contended with both President Trump’s and Christie’s unpopularity.

Northam, a pediatric neurologist and the state’s lieutenant governor, repeatedly tried to tie Gillespie to the president. His victory was in large part due to a surge in anti-Trump energy since the president took office. Democrats said they had record levels of enthusiasm heading into the race.

Gillespie kept Trump at a distance throughout the campaign but tried to rally the president’s supporters with hard-edge attack ads focused on illegal immigration and preserving Confederate statues. They were not enough to block Northam’s path to victory.

The wins in Virginia and New Jersey are a morale boost to Democrats who so far have been unable to channel anti-Trump energy into success at the ballot box in a major election this year.

“If I could get rid of Trump I would be even happier. I’ve never seen our state so miserable and I’ve never seen our country so miserable,” said John Holpp, an 88-year-old New Jersey voter who cast his ballot for Murphy.

In Virginia, Northam’s victory is another sign of the state’s shift toward a more liberal electorate. Democrats have won every statewide election since 2009 and now have won four out of the last five gubernatorial contests. Northam banked heavily during the campaign on his near-perfect political resume and tried to cast himself as the low-key doctor with a strong southern drawl as the antidote to Trump.

“We need comfort food, Ralph is comfort food,” Del. John Bell told volunteer canvassers at a rally over the weekend.

A pediatric neurologist and Army doctor, Northam made health care reform a centerpiece of his political career and current campaign, winning key allies along the way. He was a leading opponent of a Republican effort to mandate ultrasounds before abortions in 2012, winning him strong support from well-funded abortion-rights groups. As a state senator he was a leading opponent of a Republican effort to mandate ultrasounds before abortions in 2012, winning him strong support from well-funded abortion-rights groups.

Northam’s victory is a blow to Republicans, who were hoping that Gillespie could provide a possible roadmap for moderate Republicans to follow in next year’s midterm elections.

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