Fairfax, Vogel secure Democrat, Republican Lt. Gov. nominations
Overcoming a wave of progressive energy and a tightly contested primary race, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam held off the upstart campaign of Tom Perriello and easily clinched the Democratic party’s nomination for governor June 13.
On the Republican side, former Senate candidate and national GOP chair Ed Gillespie scored a surprisingly narrow win by a little more than a percentage point over Prince William Board of Supervisors Chair Corey Stewart to secure his party’s nomination. There are no automatic recounts in Virginia gubernatorial elections, and a losing candidate can only request it if the margin of victory is less than 1 percent.
Northam and Gillespie will square off at the top of their party’s respective tickets in the general election on Nov. 7.
“I will do everything I can in the upcoming days and months to gain your support. We’re all in this together,” Northam said. “It’s time for for us to get back on offensive and stop playing so much defense. It’s time to stop being reactive instead of proactive.”
A former state senator and incumbent Lt. Gov., Northam defeated Tom Perriello, a former one-term congressman from Virginia’s fifth district that campaigned as an unabashed progressive, by more than 10 points.
The race was much closer in Loudoun, where Northam edged his opponent 10,753 votes or 51.58 percent to 10,094 votes and 48.42 percent.
Northam’s win reaffirms the establishment wing of Democratic party’s strength in Virginia and deals a blow to a nationwide progressive movement looking to score a significant victory with Perriello’s nomination. In his concession speech, Perriello quickly threw his support behind Northam and said it was essential for Democrats to unify against the Republican candidate come November.
“I think we had an amazing conversation that hadn’t been had enough in this Commonwealth, about rising and radical inequality, about skyrocketing debt and consumer debt,” Perriello said. “I know we will work together as a party and as a movement to ensure basic economic fairness and decency is a reality across the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
The hand-picked successor to term limited incumbent Gov. Terry McAulliffe, Northam was expected to cruise through the nomination season. After announcing his campaign last year, he quickly picked up support from many of the Democratic party’s most high profile establishment figures, including Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner and Attorney General Mark Herring.
Along with the endorsements and more than a decade of public service in Virginia, Northam, a former Army veteran and physician, had a significant head start in fundraising. Touring the Commonwealth for months unopposed, he painted himself as an experienced, dependable Democrat that would continue McAuliffe’s policies in a state that hadn’t elected a Republican to a statewide office since 2009 and the only southern state to vote for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Northam had to rework his campaign in January of this year. Inspired by the November 2016 election of Republican President Donald Trump, Perriello unexpectedly entered the contest, charging to Northam’s left. Buoyed by national, statewide and local animosity toward the Trump Administration, Perriello captured a wave of progressive energy and activism to catch up with Northam in supporters and polling, which showed a near toss up leading to election day.
Perriello, who after losing re-election in 2010 served in the administration of President Barack Obama and later as a foreign diplomat, took unabashed progressive stances on many issues. That included support for free community college, an increased minimum wage and a challenge to Commonwealth’s right to work laws, which surprised many political observers who questioned the strategy in a what many still consider a moderate swing state.
Those policies helped him gain endorsements from major progressive figures like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, the later of whom campaigned alongside Perriello in Virginia. It appears that push to the left may have proved too much for the more middle-of-the-road bulk of Virginia voters.
The race received national media attention as a proxy war between wings of the Democratic party and a re-match of the 2016 presidential primary race between Sanders and Clinton, a notion both campaigns repeatedly dismissed. As the most high-profile race following Trump’s election, Virginia’s off-year gubernatorial race also attracted millions in spending from contributors outside of Virginia, including several hundred thousand dollars to Perriello’s campaign from liberal donor George Soros.
The origination of funding was one of the few points of contention between the two candidates, who ran a widely congenial race. Northam said his lopsided advantage in campaign contributions from Virginia residents proved his strong support among voters within the Commonwealth. Perriello countered that his large out-of-state contributions reaffirmed he was turning Virginia into a firewall against Trump and spearheading opposition nationwide.
In a tightly contested primary, both candidates had to prove their liberal credentials to party voters. From the onset, Perriello championed himself as the true progressive candidate and the only to push unprecedented liberal policy positions in Virginia like a $15 an hour minimum wage and free community college for all Virginians. He anchored his campaign on a two-fold approach to resist Trump, whose already low approval ratings nationally are even lower in Virginia, while creating a new, positive and inclusive environment for all of the Commonwealth’s citizens.
He also went after the liberal credentials of Northam, who has been portrayed as the more moderate candidate of the two. Northam voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, saying he didn’t follow national politics much at the time, and was recruited by General Assembly Republicans to join the GOP as a state Sen. from the Eastern Shore in 2009, which he declined.
Northam countered with his record on key liberal wedge issues. The former neurologist touted his record on women’s reproductive rights and received a rare primary endorsement from NARAL Pro-Choice and it’s Virginia subsidiary.
He also attacked Perriello for his support for the controversial Stupak Amendment to the Affordable Care Act while as a member of Congress. The amendment, which didn’t pass, would have prohibited federal funding for abortions as part of the ACA. Perriello said he supported it as a compromise to constituents while representing a conservative district, and has since repeatedly apologized and denounced that vote.
Gun regulations were another point of contention between the two. Northam, using his experience as a veteran, made gun control a major issue on the campaign and called for an outright assault weapons ban. Perriello had an A rating from the NRA while in Congress and wrote then Attorney General Eric Holder a letter advocating against an assault weapon ban. While running in 2017, Perriello has also apologized for that vote, saying he wasn’t against working toward such a ban while as governor and decrying the NRA as a “nut job extremist organization.”
Ultimately, Northam’s was able to assure voters of his liberal credentials and champion his experience. Meanwhile his broader appeal and party establishment support helped put him over the top.
Gillespie Narrowly Holds off Stewart
The Republican side provided more dramatic as Gillespie narrowly won his party’s nomination with around 44 percent of the vote. Stewart received 43 percent and state Sen. Frank Wagner was a distant third at around 13 percent. Gillespie had already secured the majority of support from Republican party leaders in Virginia and will now pivot to face off with Northam, trying to win an election for the GOP here for the first time in eight years.
Gillespie led in nearly every major poll during the campaign, leaving Stewart and Wagner to hope they could energize their group of supporters to come out in greater force in a primary that traditionally draws less than 20 percent of the overall electorate. While Wagner failed to do so, Stewart was highly effective getting supporters of his conservative ideas to show up in droves.
A former economic adviser to the Bush administration, Gillespie centered his campaign on improving Virginia’s economy, which he stressed repeatedly on the campaign trail had fallen in job growth and business development rankings under McAuliffe. The crux of his pitch to Republican voters was a 10 percent across-the-board tax cut for all Virginians that he said would create 53,000 new private sector jobs while stimulating the economy overall.
As the prohibitive front runner for essentially the entirety of the race, Stewart and Wagner spent much of their campaigns knocking Gillespie. Both attacked the plan as impractical and overblown while knocking him for his extensive ties to the national Republican party.
Stewart knocked Gillespie as “Establishment Ed” and instead stressed his own ties to Trump, the first-time office holder that shocked the party infrastructure and reformed conservative politics. Though he was fired as Trump’s Virginia campaign chair after organizing a protest at GOP headquarters for what he perceived as a lack of party support, Stewart thumped his chest as the most ardent supporter of the president.
Running far to Gillespie’s right, Stewart’s campaign centered around supporting an unpopular president, hard-line immigration policies in one of the nation’s most diverse states and a crusade to support monuments of the Confederacy. His actions were kept at arms length by many Republicans and widely decried by Democrats, but the large amount of attention he gained in his unrelenting push to the right worked to to galvanize the Commonwealth’s comparatively small percentage of strongly conservative voters, though his effort fell just short.
Loudoun proved a surprising microcosm of the campaign. Gillespie captured 5,295 votes or 44.55 percent compared to 5,195 votes and 43.71 for Stewart. The county, considered a moderate bellwether, supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio over Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. It didn’t return that favor for Gillespie, whom Rubio endorsed this campaign cycle.
Wagner, considered more moderate than Stewart, also touted his work on the Trump campaign but instead prioritized transportation funding, education reform and his more than 20 years of experience working in the General Assembly. Like Stewart, Wagner struggled to gain much fundraising contributions or support in the polls compared to Gillespie, but unlike either of his primary opponents, couldn’t garner votes at the polls.
Congressman Rob Wittman, considered early on as a top contender for Governor, suspended his campaign a few weeks after winning re-election to the House in November 2016. Distillery owner Denver Riggleman, whose campaign as a conservative political outsider never gained traction in contributions or polling, suspended his campaign this previous spring.
Fairfax takes Democratic nomination for Lt. Gov.; Vogel gets GOP bid
Former federal prosecutor Justin Fairfax topped two other candidates seeking to become the Democratic nominee for Lt. Gov. He bested Susan Platt, a former congressional staffer and campaign manager, by more than 10 percent of the vote. Gene Rossi, also a former federal prosecutors, finished a distant third.
Platt fared better in Loudoun, where she won 9,323 voters or 47.44 percent compared to 8,203 votes and 41.74 percent.
Narrowly losing to Herring in the 2013 Democratic primary for Attorney General, Fairfax returned to statewide campaigns with a sizable win over Platt. Also inspired to run following Trump’s election, Platt quickly rose to the top of the polls after announcing her run in January but couldn’t capture that momentum at the polls. While all three candidates reaffirmed similar liberal positions on issues like gun rights, minimum wage increases and women’s reproductive rights, Fairfax was able to pull out the win.
He will face off against state Sen. Jill Vogel in the general election as she looks to become the Commonwealth’s first-ever female Lt. Gov. Vogel narrowly defeated fellow state Sen. Bryce Reeves and Del. Glenn Davis, who finished a distant third.
Vogel was bolstered by a strong showing in Loudoun, parts of which she represents in the General Assembly. She took 7,330 votes and 63.67 percent of all votes cast.
A campaign ethics lawyer, Vogel campaigned as the best defender of conservative values and touted her support from gun rights and pro life groups. Those proved key talking points during the race, and both Reeves and Davis spent much of the campaign appealing as conservative leaders.
Reeves touted his experience as a military veteran and former police officer as credentials for his support for gun rights. He also used his position as husband and father as a reaffirmation of his commitment to family values. Davis also stressed his conservative laurels, but also tried to shape his candidacy around his experience in creating jobs and spurring the economy as an entrepreneur and law maker.
In the third and final statewide office, Herring and Republican private practice lawyer John Adams won their respective races unopposed. Herring will now seek a second term as Attorney General against Adams in the November general election.