Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam and Republican candidate Ed Gillespie lead in soliciting campaign contributions for their respective races less than a week before the June 13 primary.
The incumbent Lt. Gov. and a former state senator, Northam reported a little more than $2 million in campaign contributions since April 1, the most of any gubernatorial candidate during that time. He edged his primary opponent, former congressman Tom Perriello, who reported nearly $1.9 million in contributions. Northam also holds a more sizable advantage in total funds, close to doubling his primary opponent with more than $1.3 million to Perriello’s reported $734,000.
A recent Washington Post-Schar School poll shows a close race between the two Democrats. Northam holds a narrow 40-38 lead, well within the poll’s margin of error.
Initially expected to cruise to through the Democratic primary process, Northam has faced a stiff challenge from Perriello, who didn’t announce his campaign until January of this year. Northam, who announced his candidacy more than a year ago, has the advantage not in party support but in a significant longer period to fund raise.
Inspired to run following the election of Republican President Donald Trump in November 2016, Perriello has campaigned as an unabashed progressive. He has garnered support from the Democratic party’s more progressive wing, channeling liberal energy in a state where the president’s approval ratings are below his low averages nationwide.
Perriello has also capitalized on support from high-profile out-of-state party leaders like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, both of whom formally endorsed the former Rep. from Virginia’s fifth district. That out-of-state support has carried over in fundraising dollars where Perriello has drawn the majority of his financing. That includes $500,000 from New York billionaire George Soros, who has given hundreds of millions of dollars to Democratic candidates in previous elections.
In a mostly congenial race between two candidates that have touted their liberal credentials, Northam has used the influx of out-of-state against Perriello. The majority of Northam’s fundraising has come from Virginia citizens, which he says proves he is the best representative for the Commonwealth. Perriello has countered by saying his out-of-state support shows he is not only making Virginia a firewall against Trump locally, but helping to spark a wave of liberal activism across the country.
As the most high-profile race following Trump’s election, the results in Virginia are also seen as a national referendum on the president’s administration. The Democratic primary in particular is seen as a proxy battle over the future of the party between the more liberal wing represented by Perriello and the more establishment wing represented by Northam.
It’s also considered a rematch of the 2016 Democratic presidential primary the featured Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Incumbent Gov. Terry McAuliffe is a long-time Clinton family confidant and has endorsed Northam. Both candidates have repeatedly dismissed this comparison and said they are running on behalf of Virginia, not the national party.
On the Republican side, Gillespie has continued to top fundraising totals. The presumed front runner and leader in most party polls, the former White House staffer and Senate candidate reported $1.1 million in contributions in the past two months and a total available funds of nearly $2.5 million. His two primary challengers, Prince William Board of Supervisors Chair Corey Stewart and and state Sen. Frank Wagner reported around $179,000 and $134,000, respectively, in campaign contributions since April 1. Stewart reports around $187,000 on hand and Wagner around $59,000.
Gillespie has continued to gain momentum since a much closer-than-expected loss against incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in the 2014 election. Supported by the bulk of Virginia’s Republican establishment, Gillespie has based his campaign on boosting Virginia’s economy in large part through a 10 percent across-the-board tax cut for all citizens in the Commonwealth.
Stewart, the former Virginia campaign chair for Trump who was fired for leading a protest at GOP headquarters over a perceived lack of support from the Republican party, has run to Gillespie’s right, attacking the front runner as “Establishment Ed” and taking hard-line stances on immigration and pro-life causes. His campaign has not gained mainstream traction in fundraising in the polls, and he has been criticized from the right and the left for holding high-profile rallies to preserve monuments of Confederate leaders and comparing politicians that supported removing such statues to ISIS.
Wagner also campaigned on behalf of Trump in 2016 but has taken a more balanced stance during his race. He has prioritized transportation funding and education reforms during his race, but has also failed to gain much widespread traction in contributions or polling. The same Washington Post-Schar School poll shows that Gillespie leads with 38 percent of the vote among Republican primary voters compared to 18 percent to Stewart and 15 percent to Wagner, while 24 percent of respondents gave no preference. The poll also showed that 60 percent of Republican voters think Gillespie has the best chance to win.