While most every other state is still recuperating from the crazy presidential campaign last year, Virginia is already underway in a competitive contest for the state’s highest office. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is term limited (thanks to Old Dominion’s one-term gubernatorial policy) and will be vacating his seat at the end of the year.
Former Bush staffer and RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie is the clear front-runner in the GOP primary. He leads Prince William County Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart with 28 percent to his 12 percent. However, that same Quinnipiac University poll taken in early April shows Gillespie trailing both Democratic candidates by over 10 points in a general election matchup.
Unlike the Republican primary, the race to become the Democratic nominee is much more competitive. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam trails former Rep. Tom Perriello by only five points. The contest has become an establishment-versus-grassroots campaign of sorts.
Northam has long been involved in Old Dominion politics. He also sports the backing of major Democrats in the state: Gov. McAuliffe, Senator Tim Kaine, Senator Mark Warner, the majority of the state’s Democratic congressional delegation and every Democrat in the state legislature.
This laundry list of backers for the lieutenant governor has not secured his nomination, however. Tom Perriello’s surprise entrance into the race in early January has led to a wave of insurgent support.
Tom Perriello only served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives – having been elected in 2008 to Virginia’s 5th Congressional District and then promptly ousted amid the 2010 Republican wave. Upon leaving the House, Perriello served as CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund and was appointed in 2015 as the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The time spent at the Center for American Progress and his vehement anti-Trump rhetoric on the campaign trail has largely built up his cred among national liberals. Perriello boasts endorsements from many key members of the Obama White House (Dan Pfeiffer and John Podesta included) and from the Senate’s only democratic socialist – Bernie Sanders.
Since he entered the primary, Perriello has continually railed against Donald Trump on the campaign trail, calling the 45th President “viciously racist” and vowing to stop his agenda whenever possible. The strategy to energize disillusioned Democrats after a bruising 2016 election loss is clearly working. Despite having virtually the entire Virginia Democratic establishment betting against him, Periello leads Northam 25 percent to 20 percent.
To be fair, there will be more than enough time for either candidate to pull ahead. Both parties pick their nominee on June 13.
The ramifications of the election may be more than just political.
This November could be the deciding factor in where the Washington Redskins decide to make their new home stadium. Gov. McAuliffe has worked desperately to move the team to Northern Virginia, but has yet to finalize a deal with the Redskins’ management. They may move to D.C. or stay in Maryland. Both Perriello and Northam have publicly taken tough stances on the team’s controversial name whereas Gillespie believes the decision to change the name is solely up to the team.
Campaign Daily Rating: Toss-up