Here's How The 2017 Election Changed American Politics Overnight

by Erin Delmore
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images News/Getty Images

After winning marquee races in Virginia and New Jersey, Democrats are riding a wave that could spell victory into the 2018 midterms and beyond. Past the headlines, a deeper look into Tuesday night's gains across the country shows how Democrats plan to take back Congress and block President Trump's agenda going forward.

1. An Obamacare Repeal Just Got A Whole Lot Harder

Mainers voted to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act Tuesday, lending strength to a program Trump and congressional Republicans are trying to starve at every turn. The referendum was a direct rebuke of Republican Governor Paul LePage's decision to veto Medicaid expansion five times and bolsters Republican Senator Susan Collins, who delivered a fatal blow to her party's effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act last fall. Now that a majority of Maine's residents have voiced their support for a health care law the GOP campaigned on killing, it's going to be difficult for congressional Republicans to convince Collins to vote for repeal or for any bill that would reduce Medicaid coverage among her constituents. With a slim majority in the Senate, the party needs nearly every vote to move forward.

A first nationwide, the referendum puts Maine on track to become the 32nd state (33rd including Washington, D.C.) to expand Medicaid. Governors from both parties have signed off on the deal, which allows a state to cover more of its neediest residents while the federal government largely foots the bill. Expect to see Democrats put the issue to a vote in some of the remaining 18 states going forward.

2. A 'Western Firewall' Could Block Trump's Agenda

Democrat Manka Dhingra won a special election for Washington state's 45th legislative district Tuesday, flipping control of state Senate from red to blue. With Democrats already in control of the Washington House of Representatives, plus both chambers of government in Oregon and California, Democrats now have an all-blue firewall along the western coastline. While California is already using its power to make President Trump's path to re-election more difficult, expect to see Washington state — and its Democratic governor, rumored 2020 presidential contender Jay Inslee — use party unity to oppose Trump's agenda at the state level. From free birth control to immigration reform, policing, and raising the minimum wage, there's a lot states can do to sidestep the White House. Just look at how states led the way on same-sex marriage, despite a 1996 federal law that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

3. The Stakes Are So Much Higher In Alabama

Riding high off Tuesday's election results, Democrats are gearing up for the special election to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions's former Senate seat in Alabama on December 12th. Republican Roy Moore, an ultra-conservative former state supreme court justice who was removed from the bench twice, is facing off against Democrat Doug Jones, a long shot in the deep-red state.

After suffering a defeat in Georgia's Sixth Congressional District this summer, Democrats are eager to make a play in Trump territory. First-time candidate Jon Ossoff lost to Republican Karen Handel in June in the most-expensive House race in history, dashing Democrats' hopes of sending up a loud rebuke of Trump's young presidency. But while Dems will be fighting an uphill battle in Alabama (voters went for the Republican candidate by double-digits in the last two presidential elections), expect momentum, money, and prominent Democrats to flock to the state on Jones' behalf.

4. Republicans Can't Run on Trumpism Alone

Voters rejected the Republican gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey, each of whom drew on elements of Trump's brand of nationalism to fuel their campaigns, indicating that the president's message won't carry swing states through next year's midterm elections. Trump himself hit the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Virginia, Ed Gillespie, who lost by nine points — a wider margin than Trump lost to Hillary Clinton in the state last year.

Tweeting that Gillespie failed to "embrace me or what I stand for," Trump distanced himself from the Republican candidate after polls closed Tuesday. But a large number of Virginians said they cast their votes as a rejection of Trump. A majority said they disapproved of the job Trump was doing in office.

As Republicans craft a 2018 election strategy that can usher their House and Senate majorities into the next session, they'll be forced to remake the party in Trump's image, confront it, or tow the line between the two. With a growing number of congressional Republicans choosing not to run for re-election next year, including two more House members yesterday, Democrats' chances of making gains in the House are going up.