On the Democratic side, we saw a hotly contested gubernatorial primary between Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello. Both ran as strong progressives with Northam beating Perriello by the more comfortable than expected margin of 56-44.
Perriello did best in his old southside congressional district and in normally Republican low turnout counties in the western part of the State. Northam carried urban Democratic strongholds like Alexandria and Arlington and did even better in places like Virginia Beach and Norfolk.
While billed as the Sanders insurgency versus the establishment, this geography doesn’t support that voters especially saw it that way, since Northam carried urban progressive strongholds. I suspect that was inside baseball to most voters who took their cues off of snapshots of the candidates. Something for people still fighting the Bernie v. Hillary wars to remember.
We did learn that there is no such thing as criticizing Donald Trump too much in a Democratic primary. Both candidates were strident in their critiques. Northam managed to get a lot of earned media for calling Trump “a narcissistic maniac.”
Both candidates ran good campaigns and either would have been a fine general election candidate. Kudos to Tom Perriello for conceding quickly once the results became clear and for unequivocally endorsing Ralph Northam. Another good lesson for Democrats everywhere.
The Republicans had a much more problematic night that almost ended in total disaster. Former RNC Chair Ed Gillespie, who nearly upset U.S. Mark Warner in 2014, ran a campaign in which he advocated standard Republican calls for massive tax cuts and did his best to avoid controversy or commentary on Trump.
In contrast, Prince William Board of Supervisors Chair Corey Stewart, known in the past for his staunch anti-immigrant efforts and being fired as Trump’s state campaign chair, ran an incendiary campaign in which ran as Trumpier than Trump, embracing Confederate monuments and getting lots of free media.
Despite huge financial advantages and near universal establishment support, Gillespie eked out a victory over Stewart of 43.7 to 42.5. Trump remains popular among the diehards who tend to vote in low turnout Republican primaries.
This does not bode well for people who would like to see the party steered away from extreme right-wing populist Trump-style politics. Probably very bad for Republicans but even worse for Americans who need two responsible, viable parties.
Though Republicans just avoided the nightmare scenario of Stewart as their nominee, Gillespie’s narrow win when a blowout was anticipated takes the wind out of their sails, which doesn’t help as he was already trailing either Northam or Perriello in the polls. It doesn’t demonstrate strong support for the nominee and, contrary to his near upset of Warner, weakens confidence that he knows how to run a good campaign in tough terrain.