5 takeaways from the Virginia primaries – The Hill

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Democrats’ hotly anticipated contested primary for Virginia governor was supposed to be the race to watch when Virginians went to the polls Tuesday, but the surprise of the night was the unexpectedly close race for the GOP nomination.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam cruised to the Democratic nomination with a double-digit victory over former Rep. Tom Perriello, who gained national prominence for fiery rhetoric against President Trump and an endorsement from Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFox host links shooting to ‘hateful’ Dem rhetoric Trump makes surprise visit to shot congressman in hospital 5 takeaways from the Virginia primaries MORE (I-Vt.).

Instead, the GOP primary quickly stole the spotlight, with front-runner Ed Gillespie barely eking out a win over Corey Stewart, an outspoken Trump backer who has defended Confederate symbols.Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s primaries in the race to succeed Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D):


Enthusiasm is on Democrats’ side

Democrats argue that voter enthusiasm is on their side in the early months of Trump’s administration, touting their surprisingly competitive, although ultimately unsuccessful, special election performances in GOP strongholds.

The party can now point to Virginia’s gubernatorial primaries as evidence that the enthusiasm gap is real, at least in Virginia.

A total of 542,410 Virginia Democrats voted in their party’s primary, compared to 365,559 votes cast in the Republican primary. And Democrats saw a huge bump in their primary vote totals compared to 2009 — Virginia’s last contested Democratic gubernatorial primary — when fewer than 320,000 voted.

Democrats made up nearly 60 percent of Tuesday’s primary turnout, according to Decision Desk. That’s a significant drop-off from Virginia’s 2016 presidential primary, when Republicans made up 57 percent of the turnout.

The turnout gap serves as good news for Democrats hoping to keep Republicans out of the governor’s mansion.

Democrats will have a good chance of holding on to the governorship if they can keep up those turnout levels while Republican voters sit on the sidelines.

It will be crucial for Democrats to turn out voters in Northern Virginia as well as black voters in the southeastern part of the state around Richmond. Strong anti-Trump headwinds can motivate their base to go to the polls.


Sanders-aligned candidate falls short — again

Sanders became an icon in the Democratic Party after his insurgent presidential bid, but candidates aligned with the progressive stalwart have so far had little luck electorally.

Sanders has had little to show for his endorsements this cycle — special election candidates in Montana and Kansas came close, but ultimately lost. Democrats aligned with the Vermont senator have failed to make gains even in deep blue states like California.

Sanders endorsed Perriello and campaigned with him at George Mason University. While he lost by a wide margin, Perriello did see major support in precincts with lots of college students, a bloc of voters that generally flocked to Sanders in 2016.

The primary had frequently been described as a proxy war between the establishment and progressive wings of the party, with Northam receiving an endorsement from McAuliffe, a close ally to Bill and Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham Clinton5 takeaways from the Virginia primaries Clinton reacts to shooting: We’re all on one team Equal justice under law for fathers MORE. But since the Democrats largely overlapped on policy, many characterized the race instead as a difference in their tone and style: Northam as a pragmatist and Perriello as an idealist.

After Perriello’s defeat, Perriello communications director Ian Sams tweeted that Northam is the most progressive nominee for Virginia governor in recent history, crediting the primary and Perriello’s candidacy for pulling the party to the left.

Both candidates touted their progressive chops during the primary, with Northam airing an ad in the last week that specifically highlighted endorsements from progressive groups.


The Washington Post endorsement continues to hold sway with Democrats

Polls leading up to Tuesday’s primary reflected a neck-and-neck race, with some polls showing Perriello with an edge.

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