“Certainly, the governorship itself is important to both parties and to citizens of Virginia," Carsey said. "But it receives national attention because of its perceived reflection on the performance of the current president, and also because there are no other statewide elections competing for attention."
Carsey said this is not a case of a candidate being more personally popular or appealing than the other, but rather part of a more general win for Democrats in the state as they secured several seats in the Virginia House of Delegates as well.
Republicans initially held a 66-34 majority in the House of Delegates, but now Democrats control 49 of the House seats.
John Davis, a non-partisan political analyst at John Davis Consulting, said while national attention was focused on the race between Northam and Gillespie, the results in the House of Delegates elections were also an important indicator of the national political climate.
“What was interesting is that of the 15 seats that flipped from Republican to Democrat, 11 of those were won by Democratic women over Republican male incumbents,” Davis said.
The success of Democratic women in Virginia, Davis said, coupled with a dislike of the current presidential administration, will be enough to inspire liberals to make a substantial push to gain seats in the North Carolina legislature in 2018.
Carsey said the president’s party normally experiences losses in the House of Representatives during a midterm election, and Democrat victories in Virginia point to a continuation of this trend. He said Democrats should be cautious entering next year’s election.
“It could be a sign of things to come for 2018, though making predictions about national politics has been a risky proposition for the last couple of years,” Carsey said.
Next year, North Carolina representatives in the U.S. House will be up for reelection, as will members of both the N.C. House of Representatives and N.C. Senate.