America will remember November 8th, 2017. In many ways this election was a tired example of the old rules of politics dictating the results. An unpopular president whose party is pushing an unpopular agenda in Washington was severely defeated by the opposing party in an off-year election. Additionally the statewide wins came in states that demographically favor Democrats. However, this is not why this election will be remembered. It will be remembered as a validation of the can-do spirit of American democracy: Candidates across the country were able to upset incumbents by running campaigns based on the idea that Americans should lift each other up because we are all Americans, regardless of who we are or what we look like. The 2017 election was not simply a repudiation to President Trump; it was a harbinger that a more inclusive America is on the horizon and the faces in power are changing.
Obviously the gubernatorial races were the marquis events, and for good reason. While Governors-elect Northam and Murphy were the favorites they both exceeded expectations. Northam in particular overcame so many factors to produce his massive victory. Consider that in 2014 Ed Gillespie came within one percentage point of becoming Virginia’s senator. In 2017, he was defeated by nine points. Because of that victory, Democrats may be in control of the state house of delegates in the future (There are currently multiple recounts taking place). Northam nearly doubled Hillary Clinton’s 2016 margin of victory in the state.
The upsets of incumbents by a diverse array of Democratic candidates proved that grassroots energy can overcome the political establishment’s financial advantage. What was even more remarkable was the fact that these candidates defeated opponents who seemed to represent the forces of discrimination they had personally experienced. Danica Roem became the first transgender-American to be elected to a state position, defeating a Republican incumbent who refused to debate her, refused to call her by her preferred pronoun, and called himself “Virginia’s chief homophobe.” In New Jersey, Ashley Bennett was inspired to run after Republican State Representative Jon Carman mocked the women’s march by asking when the marchers would “come home to cook dinner.” Bennett easily defeated him. In the town of Helena, Montana, Wilmot Collins, a Liberian refugee who arrived in Helena 23 years ago, unseated the incumbent Republican mayor of 16 years. Chris Hurst, a former TV anchor whose girlfriend was a victim of gun violence on live television, defeated a Republican incumbent in Virginia who was heavily backed by the NRA.
Finally, in Haverford, or more specifically Delaware County, history was made as well. Kevin Madden and Brian Zidek were elected to the Delaware County Council, marking the first time more than one Democrat has been on the council in more than thirty years. They won by three thousand votes countywide. It was a shock upset, and poll workers at Coopertown Elementary School were surprised at the number of college students who turned out for an off-year local election. In 2013 only 77 voters turned out in Haverford’s precinct. In 2017, that number spiked to 323. In terms of an off year election, that increase is almost unheard of. When I spoke to Kevin Madden on November 14 he said the win had not just been because of President Trump, but because activists had been fighting for the issues he campaigned on for decades.
Every year in America elections are held to give the people a chance to voice their opinions. A year after Donald J. Trump shocked the world and was elected the 45th President of the United States, millions of Americans who oppose him were worried that once again the billionaire president would be victorious. This election demonstrated the change that ordinary citizens can bring about when they are mobilized and exercise their right to vote. While this may not be a barometer for future elections, it will undoubtedly give the opposition to President Trump confidence that they are the majority in this country and can take back political power come 2018 and 2020.