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An ominous evening for Republicans

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That loud sound you heard last Tuesday night was Republicans in North Carolina gulping nervously as the election returns from across the state and across the country came in.

In virtually every race that mattered, the Republicans lost and in many cases lost resoundingly. National pundits were pontificating that Republican Ed Gillespie was pulling close to Democrat Ralph Northam in the governor’s race in Virginia thanks to Gillespie’s decision to run on issues right out of Donald Trump’s playbook — crime, gangs, fear of immigrants, preservation of Confederate monuments, etc.

The voters apparently didn’t care much for it. Northam won handily — by almost 9 percent — and that wasn’t even the biggest story in Virginia’s election.

With a few recounts pending, Democrats appear to have completely erased the Republican 66-32 margin in the House of Delegates, making it the largest victory by Democrats in Virginia legislative races since 1899.

One of the winners was Danica Roem, a transgender woman who defeated a 13-term rabidly conservative House member who called himself Virginia’s homophobe and introduced HB2-like legislation targeting transgender Virginians.

Democrats swept all the statewide races in Virginia and elected an African-American lieutenant governor, just three months after a white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville where a counter-protester was killed and President Trump said afterward that there were some very fine people on both sides.

And it wasn’t just Virginia. Maine voters approved a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid over the objections of their Trump-like governor Paul LePage.

New Jersey elected a Democratic governor too, which was not a surprise, but remember, it’s only been four years since Republican Gov. Chris Christie convincingly won re-election, pushing him onto the national stage and consideration as Trump’s running mate last fall.

Democrats also won a special election in the state of Washington, taking control of the state Senate for the first time since 2012.

There is more, but you get the idea. It was a big night for Democrats across the country.

And it was a big night for them in North Carolina. Progressive candidates swept the mayoral races in major cities, including in Charlotte, where Democrat Vi Lyles defeated Republican Kenny Smith by almost 20 points in a race that the North Carolina Republican Party invested in and that conservative pundits were forecasting to be close with some even saying Smith would win.

He didn’t come close.

The growing consensus about Tuesday night is that people were motivated to show up at their polls to vote against President Trump and the policies he is pursuing and the politicians who are aligned with him.

Exit polls in Virginia showed health care was the top issues on voters’ minds and they are not happy with the Republicans’ attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

People in North Carolina are not happy about it either, and they have soured on Trump and the Republicans too, with Democrats holding a significant lead on the generic ballot in recent polls, even ones conducted by conservative groups.

Few people are predicting the kind of wave in North Carolina in 2018 that swept through Virginia Tuesday, but they were not predicting it in Virginia either.

Republicans in North Carolina won’t admit it, but they seem to sense that their days of almost unlimited power with their legislative supermajorities are almost over.

That’s evident in their last desperate moves to remake state government before they lose control with the most egregious example the proposal by Senate Rules Chair Bill Rabon to end the terms of all judges in 2018 and force every judge and justice to run for election every two years.

That’s enraged Democrats and Republicans alike and only adds to the motivation of voters demanding a change in Raleigh and Washington.

Democrats may still be arguing over what happened in 2016, but they seemed unified last week and they had lot of disenchanted Republicans joining their cause.

No wonder Republican leaders in North Carolina are nervous and desperate and flailing. Their only saving grace is that most of them were not on the ballot on Tuesday. But unless things change dramatically or they change their destructive course, their days may be numbered too.

Chris Fitzsimon is founder and executive director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts “News and Views,” a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.

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