Northam Wins Virginia Democratic Primary, Gillespie Clinches Tight GOP Race

Virginia governor candidate Ralph Northam / Getty
Ralph Northam / Getty
June 14, 2017

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam has bested former Rep. Tom Perriello to win the Democratic Party's nomination for governor of Virginia, a closely watched race that many observers have seen as a bellwether for the future of the party.

At the same time, former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie narrowly defeated Trump state campaign chairman Corey Stewart in a closer-than-expected race for the Republican nomination.

The Associated Press declared Northam the victor just after 8 p.m. eastern. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, the lieutenant governor cleared Perriello's total by over 60,000 votes, besting him 56 to 44 percent.

It took several more hours for a call to be made in the unexpectedly tight GOP race, with Gillespie besting Stewart by less than five thousand votes. State Sen. Frank Wagner took third place with around 13 percent of the vote.

The Perriello-Northam race between has been closely watched by Democrats across the country. Northam, the sitting lieutenant governor, was the establishment favorite, backed by current Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Virginia U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.

But Perriello, a one-term congressman, made an unexpected entrance into the election in January. Running on a left-leaning populist platform, he earned the backing of noted progressives like Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.). However, despite much excitement surrounding Perriello, and a lead in at least one poll, Northam emerged victorious.

While the two disagreed about the degree of their left lean, they came together in setting their campaigns in opposition to President Donald Trump. Northam released a commercial in which he called Trump a "narcissistic maniac." Perriello in turn had a campaign ad in which he promised to "stop Donald Trump" while an ambulance, symbolizing Obamacare, was crushed behind him.

Trump was an issue in the Republican primary as well, but not due to a surfeit of criticism of the president. Stewart, with his prominent connections to the campaign, ran as a vocal Trump backer. Gillespie, a GOP insider, was more cautious. He avoided taking sides in the 2016 primary until early May, when he came out for Trump, and has since tried to keep his distance from the president.

The closeness of the Republican race may surprise many analysts, who previously pointed out that Gillespie was generally leading by substantial margins in most polls.