RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam won the Democratic nomination in the closely watched race for governor Tuesday, defeating a more liberal insurgent challenger in a contest to be one of the party’s standard-bearers against President Donald Trump.
Northam will face Ed Gillespie in the general election. The former Republican National Committee chairman eked out an uncomfortably close victory against an outspoken Trump supporter who made preserving Virginia’s Confederate history a top campaign issue.
Although the Democratic contest garnered the most pre-election attention, Gillespie’s narrow victory against former Trump state campaign chairman Corey Stewart provided the night’s biggest surprise. Gillespie was expected to win easily, and the close contest shows Trump’s enduring appeal among GOP voters in Virginia and a potentially rocky path forward for Republicans in a state where Democrats have win every statewide election since 2009.
Northam wound up handily defeating former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello, who ran as an unapologetic liberal crusader supported by prominent national Democrats like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as the best candidate to take on Trump.
Northam, a usually low-key pediatric neurologist, won running as a pragmatist with state’s Democratic establishment’s firm support. He gave a fiery victory speech Tuesday, vowing to win over Perriello supporters and lead Democrats in retaking control of the state House of Delegates in the general election.
“It is time for us to get back on offense and stop playing so much defense,” Northam said.
The general election is expected to be an early referendum on the president and a preview of what the 2018 midterm elections will look like. Virginia is one of only two states electing new governors this year, and the swing-state contest is likely to draw intense national scrutiny for signs of how voters are reacting to Trump’s first year in office.
At Northam’s event in Arlington, there were cheers and high fives as news spread that he had been declared the victor.
Hyun Lee, 37, of Centreville, Virginia, who had done phone banking and knocked on doors for Northam, was one of the people at the party.
“I trust his leadership. I trust his dedication to all Virginians,” Lee said of Northam. “He cares for everyone.”
Perriello made a surprise entrance into the race in January and faced an uphill climb from the beginning. He energized many new-to-politics voters who oppose Trump but was ultimately unable to expand the universe of Democratic primary voters enough to counter Northam’s advantages.
Perriello pledged in his concession speech to help Northam and said his campaign had shown that a “movement” is “rising up.”
“I don’t know about you, but I’m inspired to keep fighting tonight,” Perriello said.
Northam had been essentially campaigning for years, making key contacts with influential power brokers like prominent African-American politicians and religious leaders, and building up a large cash advantage that let him outspend Perriello on TV advertising in the closing weeks of the race.
In the Republican race, Gillespie enjoyed a huge fundraising advantage against Stewart and state Sen. Frank Wagner as well as the support of most state Republican lawmakers. But Stewart repeatedly blasted the former Washington lobbyist as a product of the “swamp” Trump had pledged to drain.
Stewart did not immediately concede the race.
“We really don’t know how it’s going to turn out tonight. But we’ve continued a movement started by our president in 2016. We are going to carry it through into 2018,” he said.
In the primary for lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, an attorney from northern Virginia, won the Democratic nomination while Republican Jill Vogel won her party’s nomination.
Fairfax beat longtime party activist and former lobbyist Susan Platt and former federal prosecutor Gene Rossi in Tuesday’s primary. In November, he will face one of three Republican members of the General Assembly who are vying for their party’s nomination. Fairfax has never held public office. He has said he would be focused on creating economic opportunity and security for the middle class by helping small businesses thrive and expanding workforce development.
Fairfax has never held public office. He has said he would be focused on creating economic opportunity and security for the middle class by helping small businesses thrive and expanding workforce development.
Vogel beat fellow state Sen. Bryce Reeves and state Del. Glenn Davis in Tuesday’s primary. In November, she will Justin Fairfax, an attorney from northern Virginia, who won the Democratic nomination.
Vogel is a former attorney for the Republican National Committee who advises clients on political election law and other issues. She’s said her top priorities would be creating jobs and making Virginia more economically competitive. She’s also called for a ban on gifts to politicians and redistricting reform.
If elected, Vogel would be the first woman to serve as lieutenant governor and would also end Virginia’s more than two-decade streak without a woman in statewide elected office.
Lieutenant governor is a part-time, largely ceremonial job that involves presiding over the state Senate and breaking tied votes. It’s often a stepping stone to higher office.
Here’s a look at who won in the local races:
- Jeion Ward won the Democratic nomination for the 92nd District House of Delegates seat.
- Ron Villanueva won the Republican nomination for the 21st District House of Delegates seat.
- Kimberly Tucker won the Democratic nomination for the 81st District House of Delegates seat.
- Emily Brewer won the Republican nomination for the 64th District House of Delegates seat.
- Kelly Convirs-Fowler won the Democratic nomination for the 21st District House of Delegates seat.
- Rebecca Colaw won the Democratic nomination for the 64th District House of Delegates seat.
- Jay Jones won the Democratic nomination for the 89th District House of Delegates seat.
- Tiffany Boyle won the Democratic primary in the Newport News Commissioner of Revenue race. There were no Republican primary candidates, so Boyle will be the only candidate on the ticket in November.
- Greg Underwood won the Democratic primary for Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney.
MORE ELECTION COVERAGE:
- HU Poll: Perriello, Gillespie lead pack in race for Virginia governor
- 10 On Your Side sits down with the Democratic hopefuls for governor
- GOP hopefuls for Va. governor speak before Primary Day
- Virginia primary: Candidates seeking nomination for House of Delegates
- Meet the candidates: Republicans seeking lieutenant governor nomination
- Meet the candidates: Democrats vying for lieutenant governor nomination