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One year after the election of Donald Trump, Democrats are having a moment in an off-year election. The party won races around the country, including in Virginia where Democrats made a surprisingly strong showing up and down the ballot. NPR's Sarah McCammon reports from Richmond, where Democrat Ralph Northam is now Virginia's governor-elect.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Ralph Northam has been telling Virginia voters for weeks that a vote for him is a vote against bigotry and divisive politics. As he celebrated his win last night, the pediatric neurologist thanked his Democratic supporters.
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RALPH NORTHAM: And I'm here to let you know that the doctor is in.
MCCAMMON: In Virginia, Democrats aggressively recruited for down-ballot races. They turned out voters in key areas like the Washington, D.C., suburbs. And they made history by electing a transgender woman and even a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist, among others, to the legislature. Democrats pulled off a stunning series of victories in the House of Delegates, where Republicans have had a nearly two-thirds majority. Control of the chamber is now up in the air until several local recounts are finished. House Democratic Leader David Toscano says the level of success was unexpected.
DAVID TOSCANO: But in some ways, we're not surprised because we had terrific candidates who knew how to connect with people in their districts. And we had a lot of resistance to the Trump initiatives in Washington.
MCCAMMON: The anti-Trump message has worked here in the increasingly blue state of Virginia even as Democrats fight internal battles. Republicans are facing similar battles about their own future. The Republican candidate for governor, Ed Gillespie, had emphasized familiar themes from President Trump's campaign like law and order and illegal immigration. But he never campaigned with Trump.
Hours after tweeting his support for Gillespie, Trump was quick to blame him for the loss, tweeting, Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for. Corey Stewart, who came close to winning the GOP gubernatorial primary this year with a pro-Trump campaign, echoed that message.
COREY STEWART: Well, this is what happens when you nominate weak Republicans who have no message, won't embrace the president, ridicule his supporters and lull the base to sleep.
MCCAMMON: Stewart, who's running for Senate in 2018, blames the party establishment for bringing down the entire ticket. Republicans nationwide hope to avoid a similar fate in 2018, but the party remains divided over whether to embrace Trump or run away from him and his low favorability ratings.
BEAU CORRELL: You don't double down on stupid, and that's exactly what's happening.
MCCAMMON: Beau Correll is an attorney from Winchester, Va. He was a prominent anti-Trump delegate to the Republican National Convention. Correll says party leaders need to start making the case to voters that they can think for themselves.
CORRELL: Trump's brand is not selling. No one's buying it. And so we need to cut ties with the brand and disassociate ourselves with Donald Trump.
MCCAMMON: That may be easier said than done given that polls show Republican voters liked the president more than they like the party he leads. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Richmond. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.