Democrat Northam Wins Virginia’s Hard-Fought Governor’s Race

Karina Smith holds her son Kyler Smith, 2, as she fills out her ballot at a polling place Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, in Alexandria, Va. Republican candidate for Virginia governor Ed Gillespie faces Democrat Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam in Tuesday’s election. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

(CN) –  Democrat Ralph Northam has won Virginia’s hard-fought race for governor, a contest widely seen as a referendum on the first 11 months of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Northam, the current Lt. Governor and a pediatric neurologist, defeated Ed Gillespie, a former chair of the Republican National Committee.

Projections suggest Northam’s victory was sealed by his running neck-and-neck with his Republican opponent in GOP-leaning counties, while getting close to 80 percent of the total votes in traditional Democratic strongholds.

Edgardo Cortés, Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Elections, said the day’s voting had gone on with little issue except for two “minor issues.”

Students at Virginia Commonwealth University in the heart of Richmond reported they had been turned away. It turns out they weren’t registered correctly and they were given provisional ballots in the interim. A board member was sent to address the issue.

A precinct in the more rural Chesterfield county had an electronic voting machine turned off so the rest of the voters at that location had to vote by paper for the rest of the night. Again, a Department of Elections board member showed up to address the issue.

“On a statewide basis, the election has gone very smoothly today,” said Cortés at a press conference before polls closed. “The reports of issues have been minor and resolved quickly. Our process worked the way it’s supposed to.”

The president never directly stumped for the GOP candidate, former Republican National Committee chair Ed Gillespie, but he did spend the early hours of the morning tweeting messages of support.

“The state of Virginia economy, under Democrat (sic) rule, has been terrible. If you vote Ed Gillespie tomorrow, it will come roaring back!” the President tweeted, inaccurately calling the “Commonwealth” of Virginia, a “state,” a distinction native Virginians take pride in.

He went on to say the Democratic candidate, pediatric neurologist and current Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, would be weak on crime.

Here’s how the early hours of voting look around the state:

Alexandria

This Washington suburb is one of the most liberal in the Commonwealth and overwhelmingly went for Democrat Terry McAuliffe in 2013. But it appears the president has inspired voters who otherwise might not have come out to also make a statement.

Sings outside a polling place in Alexandria. Photo by Brad Kutner

Phillip and Victoria Ferguson, a government contractor and cyber security specialist ,respectively, said neither voted in 2013, but this year was “different.” This time, they said, it was particularly important to “keep Virginia blue.”

“Clean air, clean water, the whole package. I want global warming to be brought to attention,” Victoria said. Victoria Ferguson said.

She went on to say she believes Northam is more likely to accomplish these goals than his opponent.

Lucy Hunt, an advertising agency employee in nearby Del Ray, said she “never misses a chance to vote.”

While she said she voted for Northam’s primary opponent, former Roanoke-area congressman Tom Perriello, she was supporting Northam on Tuesday because he appears more “trustworthy.”

“We need to fix this healthcare funding mess,” she said, noting the possible premium hikes that could accompany the “destruction of Obamacare.”

“Fix healthcare,” Hunt said when asked if she has a message for the eventual winner. “Just fix healthcare.”

Suffolk

This rural city near Virginia’s east coast went for Republican Bob McDonnell in 2009, but flipped to McAuliffe in 2013. Here too, there appeared to be little love for President Trump.

The governor’s race in Virginia is seen as a bellwether on the 2018 congressional mid-term election. Photo by Brad Kutner

Gwendolyn Andrews, a Suffolk native, said she showed out to vote out of a sense of civic duty, but she was also interested in voicing opposition to Trump’s policies. She also said she was upset by the Then half-truths and race baiting which ran rampant in the last few weeks of the campaign.

“I’m not sure the right issues were addressed as they should’ve been,” she said. “It disintegrated badly [to] negative campaigning. I do think that there should have been more to address the fear that’s a constant state in this country right now.”

Others said the constant barrage of campaign information — via mail, TV, radio and the internet — helped them in making their decision on which candidate to support.

“I listened to all of them close [because] I want to have all the info to know which way I need to go,” said Ronald Haskins, another Suffolk native.

Richmond

As an urban center and the capital of the Commonwealth, Richmond, like Alexandria, is reliably Blue. There was no GOP candidate running to replace the city’s incumbent Democratic state representative, and displeasure with Trump was similarly evidently Tuesday morning — even by those who consider themselves moderates.

Republican candidate for Virginia governor Ed Gillespie walks to cast his ballot at his polling place Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, in Alexandria, Va. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Meda Lane, a certified public accountant, said her fiscal-conservatism usually leads her to vote Republican, but this year Trump needed to be rebuked.

“[I’m] not a big fan of our president,” she said. “I think it’s important we have the other side represented so I’d like to see Virginia go Democrat.”

“If it’s all one party or the other, then we have people who don’t have a voice,” she said.

Lane added: “Don’t forget the people who didn’t elect you are still members of the Commonwealth,” she said, offering advice to whoever wins tonight. “You need to represent everybody, not just your party.”

For some in Richmond, voting was a family affair Tuesday morning.

Betty Bailey, a Richmond native, brought her granddaughters Niya and Amaia with her to the polls. She said she hoped to instill the importance of voting in them for the future. She also stressed her vote was aimed directly at the president.

“I’m tired of all the Twitter and the things going on,” she said. “It starts at the top and [Trump] is creating problems in the United States.”

Turnout Strong As Rain Falls

On Tuesday afternoon rain rolled across the Commonwealth, and voters scrambled to and from cars between casting their ballots.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, right, and his wife, Pam, carry their ballots to the tally machine in Norfolk, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

In Chesterfield County, a rural suburb of Richmond, voters were more openly supportive of the GOP candidate, Ed Gillespie.

The county, long reliably red, gave Trump a victory in 2016 by a few thousand votes.

On Tuesday, one man hurrying to his car shouted “I voted Republican,” as he tried in vain to avoid the raindrops.

Thomas and Alice Surrels, a retired couple, left the polls saying they fully support Gillespie and hope he works with Trump to complete his agenda.

“Abortion on demand, same-sex marriage, immigration, I’m a ‘No’ on all those things,” Alice Surrels said.

Immigration was also a sore point for her husband.

“We’re getting people over here into our country, they’re getting free stuff,” Thomas Surrels said. “And eight, nine years later they kill someone.”

Gillespie had come down hard on so-called sanctuary cities early in the campaign, while Northam spent time courting immigrant communities, a rapidly growing demographic in urban parts of the state.
Stuart Davis, a poll officer at Jennie Dean Elementary School in Manassas, another Washington suburb, said turnout had been strong all day and that he expected it to continue.

“The parking lots have been filling up,” he said. “This is far better turnout than the last [gubernatorial] race.”

The area went for Republican Bob McDonnell in 2009, but it flipped to dems in 2013 and went strong for Hillary last year.

Polls in Virginia close at 7 p.m.

Courthouse News reporters Brandi Buchman and Jocelyn Rarden contributed to this report.

This story is developing …

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