After Virginia, the Democratic Party is breathing a sigh of relief. The rather easy victory for Governor-elect Ralph Northam stems the tide of recent hemorrhaging of key positions across the United States to Republicans, and continues Democrats’ control over a blue-ish state. Northam’s victory, and that of Justin Fairfax, the second black official elected in a statewide race in Virginia, also offers a sign that virulent and race-baiting white-identity politics—politics that characterize the Trump era and the late portion of Republican Ed Gillespie’s campaign—are beatable, even in the cradle of the old Confederacy. Those signs are reason enough for Democrats to celebrate. But the true national significance of Northam’s victory, as well as of major gains by the party in the General Assembly, might not be in the message they send, but the fact that those gains constitute the first big victory for Democrats in the political mapmaking game in at least a decade.
The states in Republicans’ crosshairs in 2010 were the ones that so often pop up in dozens of lawsuits about voting rights—Wisconsin, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Michigan—all crucial swing states in the 2016 election. All four states have also seen demographic shifts over the past 20 years that have increased their importance. Via the well-known redmap project, Republicans spent millions in legislative and governors’ races in those states, resulting in huge Republican gains, and also in Republican control over the 2011 redistricting process, which in turn engendered more Republican gains.