Still, the results cheered Democrats as they contemplate next year's races. Those contests matter not only because they give Democrats an opening to take over the House, but also because most of the nation's governorships will be on the ballot. The winners in most states will have a strong say in redistricting efforts after the next census, giving them power over the once-a-decade line-drawing that in some states has protected the Republican majority in Congress.
Republicans went into Tuesday's election understanding that Trump has utterly remade their party. What became clear in the carnage that followed was that he also has remade the Democratic Party.
Candidates stung by Trump's election -- many of them women and minorities new to elective politics -- swarmed into races that the party had not contested before, and voters shared their sentiments: In both Virginia and New Jersey, the percentage of voters who said in exit polls that their ballots were motivated by a desire to oppose Trump was twice as large as the share who said they were voting to support him.
The size of the Democratic victory, unexpected even by most party strategists, extended beyond the two governor's races.
In Virginia, Democrats won all three statewide positions and, pending recounts of several legislative races, could potentially take over the lower house of the state Legislature which Republicans controlled 66-34. In suburbs outside New York City and Philadelphia, Democrats won local races that in some cases have belonged to Republicans for decades.
Elsewhere, Democrat Vi Lyles will be the first African-American woman to serve as mayor of Charlotte, N.C., and Democratic women also won mayor's races in Seattle and Manchester, N.H.
The irony in Tuesday's results: Trump has spent his administration trying to undo whatever his predecessor President Barack Obama did. Yet one year after his shocking presidential victory, he finds himself in Obama's position in off-year elections: unable to pull his party's candidates over the finish line due to the rabid opposition he inspires.
Yet if Tuesday's results show a template for future Democratic success, the party's divisions remain -- and could complicate their 2018 races.
Virginia represented something of a best-case situation for Democrats. The more liberal candidate who lost to Northam in the primary, former Rep. Tom Perriello, endorsed his opponent immediately and campaigned continuously for him.
On the national level, tensions from last year's primaries between Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders have still not completely healed. That was evident in the reaction to the accusations last week by former Democratic National Committee chief Donna Brazile that the Clinton campaign had unfairly controlled the party apparatus during those contests.