The first general election test of Democratic energy this year is in Virginia, where voters will elect all 100 members of the House of Delegates, as well as their attorney general, lieutenant governor, and governor on Nov. 7. Each of these contests is important in its own way, but electing Democrat Ralph Northam as Virginia’s next governor is crucial not only to moving the commonwealth forward, but also to setting the stage for Democratic comebacks all across the country in 2018. Daily Kos is proud to endorse a progressive champion in this bellwether election.
Gubernatorial elections in Virginia have a unique quirk, in that they’re always races for an open seat. Virginia’s governors cannot serve consecutive terms, so Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe can’t run for re-election. Northam, the current lieutenant governor, stepped forward more than a year ago to declare his candidacy.
Northam faced a late primary challenge from former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello, a contest that proved a boon for the entire Democratic Party. Turnout was astronomical, demonstrating to the Virginia GOP and the rest of the country that Democrats in the state are energized and motivated to replace McAuliffe with another member of his own party. The race remained positive throughout, and class-act Perriello immediately endorsed Northam, affirming a deeply “united” Democratic effort to win in November.
The Republican gubernatorial primary, on the other hand, was a messy and ugly affair. Notorious Confederate apologist Corey Stewart came shockingly close to upsetting establishment favorite Ed Gillespie, and GOP turnout was abysmal relative to Democrats’ huge numbers. But Gillespie eked out the win, and now he limps toward November with big policy proposals like loosening Virginia’s restrictions on dangerous fireworks.
Holiday explosives snark aside, Ed Gillespie is a terrible choice for governor. He’s earned the nickname “Establishment Ed” because of his long experience as chair of the Republican National Committee, his time as a counselor to President George W. Bush, and his many years as a Washington lobbyist.
But don’t let his placid, company-man demeanor fool you: Gillespie is a smart political operative and a clever candidate. In 2010, Gillespie led the $30 million GOP effort to flip state legislatures so that Republicans would dominate the following year’s redistricting of U.S. House districts and state legislatures nationwide.
Gillespie’s work as head of this project was a terrible success: Republicans flipped some 20 chambers that fall and subsequently executed the extreme partisan and racial gerrymanders both in statehouses across the country and in the U.S. House of Representatives that have kept the GOP in power this decade. And if Gillespie is elected governor, he’ll have power over Virginia’s maps in the next round of redistricting in 2021.
Gillespie also came shockingly close to ousting Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in 2014, when Warner’s significant lead in the public polling average translated to a skin-of-his-teeth win (less than a percentage point) on election night. Despite Northam’s consistent lead in polls, underestimating Gillespie in this contest is foolish, to say the least.
Gillespie is a Republican more in the mold of George W. Bush than Donald Trump, which is not to diminish the harm he’d do as governor, but more to explain the style of politics Gillespie embraces. He’s consistently tried to run away from Trump as the leader of his own party, but we cannot let him avoid the responsibility Republicans bear for the damage inflicted on our great nation by our current president. Gillespie has taken pains to avoid any association with Trump, and he’ll use his huge war chest (almost $5 million as of June 1), massive spending from the Republican Governors Association, and support from the huge network of high-dollar donors he built as RNC chair to help Virginians forget that he and Trump are members of the same GOP.
Ralph Northam presents an acute and profound contrast. He’s a pediatric neurologist, an Army veteran, and has served Virginia as a state senator and as lieutenant governor for a decade. He’s spent his time as an elected official fighting for gun safety, abortion rights, and better education funding and teacher pay. He’s often described as “mild-mannered” and “low-key,” but don’t let his easygoing manner fool you: Northam is a consistent champion of progressive policies, and he doesn’t back down from a fight. And as Virginia’s next governor, Northam would have the power to approve or veto new maps for both the legislature and congress following the 2020 census.
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