Virginia’s gubernatorial primaries Tuesday were supposed to be close, but even with only half of the state’s counties reporting by 8 p.m. ET, it was overwhelmingly clear who the Democratic candidate for governor would be.
Ralph Northam, Virginia’s lieutenant governor, defeated former Virginia Congressman Tom Perriello handily with a lead of more than 10 percentage points. While both men campaigned on relatively progressive liberal platforms, Perriello — who dubbed Trump a “narcissistic maniac” in one notable campaign ad — was seen as leaning further to the left, prompting national news outlets to cover the race as both a 2017 version of Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders and an assessment of what liberal voters want from candidates.
But it may be more accurate to view the race through the lens of each man’s endorsements — Northam racked up nods from Democratic Virginia legislators like current Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Sen. Tim Kaine, and Sen. Mark Warner, while Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren championed Perriello. In other words, Northam may be what Virginia voters believe a progressive candidate to be, while Perriello seems to represent progressive Washington D.C.’s idea.
Interestingly, though, neither Northam nor Perriello is as true-blue Democrat as the campaign might have led voters to believe. Northam voted for George W. Bush twice (though he later disavowed those votes as “wrong”) while Perriello, during his one term as Virginia’s representative in Congress, voted for an Affordable Care Act amendment preventing insurance plans from receiving federal subsidies to cover abortion — a decision he also says he regrets. (NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia still endorsed Northam.)
Northam will now face former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie in the race for the governor’s seat.
However, the battle between Northam and Perriello was not the only noteworthy development for liberals — grassroots anti-Trump fervor also led to an unprecedented number of Democrats wrangling for seats in Virginia’s House of Delegates. For the first time since the turn of the millennium, newcomers challenged Democratic incumbents in four districts, the Associated Press reports. Another 15 districts saw Democrats fight to square off against Republican incumbents, something that’s happened just four times in the last decade. So far this year, 54 Democratic candidates committed to contesting 66 Republican-held House seats — a huge increase over 2015, when only 28 Democrats ran for 67 Republican seats.