Democratic candidate for governor, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, greets voters on Tuesday in Chesterfield, Va.
Updated at 10 p.m. ET
Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam has won the Democratic primary for governor, beating progressive candidate, former Rep. Tom Perriello, in their closely watched contest, according to the Associated Press.
But it’s in the overlooked GOP primary where a possible upset is brewing. Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie had been expected to cruise to an easy win. However, conservative challenger Corey Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and a staunch supporter of President Trump, has pulled within less than 1 percent of Gillespie with 95 percent of votes counted.
Stewart has run a controversial campaign, pledging to fight the removal of Virginia’s Confederate memorials and to crackdown on illegal immigration, and pledging his loyalty to Trump and his policies. Gillespie, in comparison, has hedged on whether he supports the president or would want his help in November — a clear general election strategy for a purple state that’s increasingly trended blue in statewide contests.
The Democratic contest was expected to be the closer one of the night. Northam had long been considered the Democrats’ successor to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who’s prohibited by law from running for a second term. But then Perriello, a one-term congressman who lost in the 2010 GOP wave, threw his hat into the race in January, running on a very anti-Trump, clearly progressive platform.
Perriello had the backing of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and had hoped an energized progressive force of new voters could catapult him into the upset. Meanwhile, Northam had all of the state’s elected officials in his corner. The dichotomy evoked comparisons to the 2016 Democratic presidential primary between the upstart Sanders and the establishment Hillary Clinton.
Northam, a pediatric neurologist by training, also heavily outspent Perriello on TV, including a memorable spot where he minced no words in proclaiming that Trump was a “narcissistic maniac.”
Even if Gillespie does pull out the primary, the far closer than expected result will surely worry Republicans. Stewart’s strength reveals a still deeply fractured primary electorate — and shows Trump and support for his agenda still remain popular among the GOP faithful. Now, whether or not Stewart supporters will turn out for Gillespie in November is a critical question.
Meanwhile, Democrats were on pace to have record turnout in their primary for a non-presidential year contest, according to the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics’ Geoffrey Skelley. That’s the type of enthusiasm Democrats have been banking on to build a midterm election backlash to Trump, and the 2017 Virginia race will be a critical test of whether or not they can do that.
Northam begins as the slight favorite in the Old Dominion, which has been trending Democratic in statewide contests. Clinton carried the state by 6 points last year, and Trump’s approval rating was at just 36 percent in a Quinnipiac University Poll in April.Share