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Sunday, October 22, 2017

New York has a reputation as a great liberal city, and in many ways it is. But not since David Dinkins won in 1989 has it sent a Democrat and a staunch progressive to City Hall. The de Blasio experiment will be a test case for the nation.

Conservatives quickly sought to take the edge off their defeats on Tuesday by arguing that Cuccinelli’s attacks on Obamacare at the end of the campaign nearly allowed him to snatch victory from McAuliffe in a race that turned out to be closer than polls had predicted.

But the evidence for this is thin. In the Virginia exit polls, only 27 percent of the voters said health care was their most important issue, and they split 49 percent for Cuccinelli, 45 percent for McAuliffe. At a moment when media reports about Obamacare are almost universally bad, this narrow advantage is surprisingly positive news for friends of the Affordable Care Act — especially since McAuliffe strongly and repeatedly endorsed using its expansion of Medicaid to provide insurance for Virginia’s near-poor.

Republicans would be wiser to pay attention to the fact that McAuliffe recreated the coalition which twice elected Obama. When Democrats lost Virginia in 2009, Obama supporters stayed home in large numbers. This time, the electorate was significantly more Democratic, and the African-American share of the vote rose sharply. In next year’s midterms, Republicans cannot count on the sort of Democratic demobilization that was so helpful to them in 2010.

To say that this election nudged the nation leftward is not to claim a sudden mandate for liberalism. But it is to insist that the center ground in American politics is a long way from where it was three years ago — and that if there is a new populism in the country, it is now speaking with a decidedly progressive accent.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is Twitter: @EJDionne.

AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan