Will Democrats Lose The Virginia Governor's Mansion?

Voters head to the polls on Tuesday in Virginia to pick the state’s next governor in a close race between Democratic candidate Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie.

Virginia should be favorable territory for Democrats. The current governor, Terry McAuliffe, is a Democrat. Hillary Clinton won the state in the last presidential election. And only 41 percent of likely voters approve of President Trump in the state, according to a Monmouth University poll published on Monday. Yet the race has become a nail-biter. Northam only has a narrow lead in polling averagesand Gillespie has gained ground over the past month.  

If Democrats lose, it will chip away at the party’s already diminished grip on state politics and exacerbate in-fighting between progressives and moderates over the best way to win races. It could also spell trouble for the party’s chances of success in the 2018 midterm elections.

Northam and Gillespie are both establishment figures who have tried, somewhat awkwardly, to find their way in a political environment upended by the 2016 election.

The lesson Republicans take from the race may be the same whether Gillespie wins or loses, at least if the loss is by only a narrow margin.

“There’s no one-size-fits plan for any candidate, but there is what you’ll call a general outline for how you go after this thing if the headwinds are against you, and that is to fire up conservative base voters, and to do that by turning to cultural issues,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who has worked on campaigns in Virginia. “Northam has a lot of the advantages, but Gillespie seems to have the momentum.”

Read more from Clare Foran at The Atlantic

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Analysis & Political Strategy