By Hastings Wyman –
Ralph Northam (D), Virginia’s mild-mannered lieutenant governor, scored a surprisingly strong victory over Ed Gillespie, former chair of the Republican National Committee, in yesterday’s gubernatorial election. Less than two hours after the polls closed, Gillespie conceded. With 90% of precincts reporting, Northam led by 53% to 45%. The margin may tighten as many rural counties, which usually vote Republican, continue to report their returns, but the final result was not in doubt.
The Democrats also won two important down-ballot races. In the race for lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax (D) became the first African American to win a statewide office since Doug Wilder won the governor’s race in 1989. Fairfax had 52% to state Sen. Jill Vogel’s (R) 48%.
In the race for attorney general, incumbent Mark Herring (D) received 53% of the vote to 47% for John Adams (R), once a law clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas.
Northam, a pediatrician, was elected lieutenant governor in 2013 on a ticket headed by Terry McAuliffe. He has a moderate record; indeed, he has acknowledged that he voted for George W. Bush for president twice. But he stuck to Democratic positions on most issues, especially social issues such as abortion rights. His most notable variance was a refusal to oppose Dominion Power’s proposed pipeline’s route across Virginia.
Gillespie, who had a close race under his belt from 2014 when he opposed US Sen. Mark Warner (D), also had a centrist record, and as late as this year’s GOP primary, he maintained his reputation as a moderate Republican. Moreover, he continued to keep his distance from President Trump as he had done last year.
Mid-campaign, however, Gillespie took a sharp turn to the right, accusing Northam of voting for sanctuary cities that harbored illegal immigrant criminals such as the MS-13 gang. His ads flashed the words “Rape. Kill. Control.” on the TV screen. He also charged Northam with supporting the restoration of rights to convicted felons (who had served their time), including a man with a huge collection of child pornography.
In response, Northam’s TV spots quoted newspaper editorials calling Gillespie’s charges “false,” “fear mongering” and “absurd.” Northam’s gentlemanly manner probably also made the charges less than believable.
As Gillespie rose in the polls following his use of hot-button issues, his financial situation improved substantially. He almost matched the well-funded Northam, bringing in $9.7 million in October to Northam’s $11 million. Northam also spent more in October, $15 million to Gillespie’s $10.7 million.
The bottom line, however, is that the Democrats won an impressive victory, keeping Virginia as a Blue State, despite Gillespie’s aggressive campaign, and Northam will become Virginia’s governor in January.