Northam wins Democratic gubernatorial primary in Virginia; Perriello concedes in a first test of Trump-era politics – Washington Post

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Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam won the Democratic nomination for governor of Virginia Tuesday by an unexpectedly wide margin, but Republican Ed Gillespie was locked in a surprising fight with Donald Trump acolyte Corey Stewart for that party’s nomination.

With about 95 percent of precincts reporting, Gillespie had a razor-thin lead of less than a percentage point. State Sen. Frank Wagner was a distant third.

The nation was watching Virginia as a political laboratory for how the parties handle the deep divisions that followed last year’s election of President Trump. Perriello channeled the energy – and endorsement – of progressive leader Sen. Bernie Sanders in trying to shake up the Democratic party, but fell short in his bid to bring in new voters from among the young and working class.

Northam’s command of the state party’s machinery, including the endorsement of every Democrat in the General Assembly and most Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation, simply turned out more voters.

Perriello conceded about 90 minutes after polls closed. To screams of “Go Tom Go!”Perriello addressed his supporters gathered at the State Theatre and urged unity against “very scary Republicans …. We don’t even know how scary that individual might be yet,” he said, referring to the down-to-the-wire fight between Stewart and Gillespie.

He credited his own campaign with a ‘great victory’ for forcing issues of economic inequality in the political conversation. “Together we helped elevate mainstream ideas that should have been there all along,” he said, citing his support for a $15 minimum wage as an example. “I think it’s movements that change the world, and politicians who work as allies to that movement.”

But first, Perriello praised Northam for winning a “great victory, and offered him my full and unequivocal support.”

Stewart’s strength on the Republican ballot was perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening. He had been running as more Trump than Trump, making provocative statements and campaigning on the issue of preserving Confederate monuments. Polls had shown him with a fraction of Gillespie’s support, but a low turnout among Republican voters gave Stewart’s committed base an outsize influence, and Wagner drew significant votes in Hampton Roads that might otherwise have gone to Gillespie.

Gillespie’s strength in Fairfax County seemed to be providing the edge as final returns came trickling in. Stewart scored big wins in Washingto’s exurbs – Loudoun, Fauquier and his own Prince William County – as well as in the rural central and southwest regions of the state.

Meet the candidates running to become Virginia’s next governor

Stewart’s unexpectedly strong showing shocked Republicans at Gillespie’s party at a Hilton Hotel ballroom in the Richmond suburbs, where supporters who had expected a blow-out were concerned to see Stewart running a close second.

“I’m shocked,” said Nancy Russell, who was Hanover County chairwoman when Gillespie ran for Senate in 2014. She was worried that Stewart would doom the GOP’s chances in November if he won the nomination.

“If Donald Trump didn’t carry the state of Virginia, I don’t know how Corey is going to,” she said.

Many voters said they were inspired to come out because of events in Washington. Alexandria resident Curt Arledge, 32, had never voted in a gubernatorial primary before Tuesday but decided that this year that it was too important for him to miss.

Clothed in a T-shirt that displayed Smokey Bear wearing a “resist” hat, the Democrat voted for Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the party’s establishment favorite, because he thought Northam could win in November.

“I can’t recall any of the issues, I hate to admit,” he said. “I want to nominate Democrats who can get elected.”

The race for governor, especially, has focused nearly as much on reaction to events in Washington as to policy concerns within the state. Outside groups have poured money and attention into Virginia, and a vast army of new candidates have flooded the Democratic side of House races — including a record number of women candidates.

“It is really the first big test in a statewide election of the state of the Democratic Party in the Trump era,” said Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.

[Just tuning in to Virginia governor’s race? We’ll help you do your homework]

On the Republican side, the three candidates vying for the top spot on the ticket represented different paths for a party still adjusting to its unconventional president and the forces that propelled him into office.

While Stewart was all-in with Trump, Wagner based his run on his 25 years of experience in the General Assembly — a strategy that defied the anti-establishment fervor that accompanied Trump’s rise.

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