Gearing up for a New Governor

June 12, 2017

Even though November 7th is five months away and within an off-year election, Virginia will be gearing up to begin the electoral process of voting for a new governor on Tuesday, June 13th.

The race technically started back at the end of 2015 when Republican candidate Ed Gillespie announced that he was running to be the party’s nominee for 2017. Since then, Corey Stewart and Frank Wagner have joined Gillespie in the race to represent Republicans on the ballot. Tom Perriello and Ralph Northam have led campaigns to do the same for Democrats.

Despite the addition of two candidates, polls unanimously show Gillespie up double-digits over his Republican competitors.

“I think Ed is a really good candidate because he’s almost a regular guy,” said former Robinson student and Ed Gillespie canvasser, Sara Klein. “He’s really in touch with the people of Virginia. I think having someone who is in touch with the people makes a great governor.”

Even so, Gillespie is not free from critics, from eminent Trump supporters and liberals alike. Republicans who displayed their hatred for career politicians last November condemn him for being too close to the RNC, while Democrats believe that he is not far enough away from Trump.

“You can’t win” said Klein. “People say he’s too close to the establishment… [but] I think he’s kind of in the middle type of candidate. He does have the ties within the RNC and within the federal government, but at the same time I think that can help you.”

Although he quite possibly will breeze through the primary, connections, or lack thereof, to Trump could be used by his Democratic opponent against him come the fall.

“I think [Democrats are] just going to be attacking him and attacking him on that end,” said Klein. “As of right now, he’s trying to stay away from controversies that are happening in the federal government”.

Whatever Gillespie is doing seems to be working, as the polls explain.

As for the Democrats, the race has been considered slightly tighter for the nomination. According to a Washington Post survey from late May, only two percentage points separate the two candidates. The characterization of the pair has similarly mirrored that of the presidential primary, with Northam garnering establishment support and Perriello assuming the more radical role.

With endorsements from populist politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Tom Perriello has been classed as the more left of the two candidates.

“I think we stand at a real inflection point here in Virginia,” said Perriello at a town hall held in Burke, Va. “We are in many ways the inclusive and progressive Virginia that I always grew up hoping we would be, but that’s coming right into conflict with those regressive forces that we’ve seen throughout our history.”

For Perriello, it’s not bringing new politics into Virginia, but rather solidifying the progressive ideals that he believes the state has always had.

“Growing up in Charlottesville I was always aware of two things… Virginia is the birthplace of American democracy, but we’re also the birthplace of American slavery,” said Perriello. “In each generation, we decide which of those traditions we’re advancing.”

But Northam’s classification as a party elite hasn’t stopped him from gaining support from young people.

“Largely, young people that I’ve met have been Northam supporters,” said Matthew Ross, President of Robinson Young Democrats. “I see Ralph Northam as a true Virginian. He has a history fighting for the causes a lot of liberals or democrats in Virginia support.”

Likely as a result of the popularity of Sanders and similar progressives throughout the country (see: Chokwe Lumumba, Jimmy Gomez), both democratic politicians seem to be attempting to move as far away from the traditional Democratic platform as possible.

“I see the race to who can be more progressive,” said Ross. “You’re see a huge movement from young people and people who have not traditionally voted saying ‘we’re not willing to stand with the traditional Democratic party as we have in year’s past.’”

Additionally, for a lot of people across Virginia, the upcoming election is just as much, if not more, about keeping people out of office than putting them in.

“I think a Republican as governor would be disastrous,” said Ross. “Just looking at the bills that have come through the House and the Senate. We’d be in the same position as North Carolina with their anti-LGBT legislation and the economic backlash that they faced.”

Klein stated that she  “support[s] the person not the party,” but she did add that “out of all the Republican candidates, he has the best chance of winning.”

As both parties become more and more polarized, primaries have become strategic in seeing who can best beat the opposition.

“I feel like overall Ralph [Northam] gives us the best chance to put a candidate against Ed Gillespie” said Ross, “I think it’s going to be a very close race… I’d be worried about [Perriello’s] ability to reach out to rural communities.”

This election race has also captured the attention of national news organizations as the outcome has a chance to affect the entire country. Because Virginia is a prominent swing state and the governor’s race is conveniently taking place a year after a controversial election, it, as well as other elections that have taken place throughout 2017, provides a way for citizens to express their opinions on the relatively new Trump presidency.

“This governor’s race…  is going to be the first legitimate test after the 2016 presidential election of what the constituents … have seen as a result of the election of Donald Trump” said Ross. “This is going to be an example of what we’re going to see going forwards after the 2016 election”.

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