Ralph Northam wins Democratic primary for Virginia governor in closely watched race

ralph northam Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam speaks to the media in April during a news conference on Medicaid expansion prior to the Senate session at the Capitol in Richmond, Va. AP Photo/Steve Helber

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia’s establishment-favored lieutenant governor won the Democratic nomination in the closely watched race for governor Tuesday, defeating a more liberal insurgent challenger in a contest to be one of the party’s standard-bearers against President Donald Trump.

Ralph Northam defeated former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello, who ran as an unapologetic liberal crusader supported by prominent national Democrats like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as the best candidate to take on Trump.

The three-way Republican primary remains too close to call. The general election is expected to be an early referendum on the president and a preview of what the 2018 midterm elections will look like.

Northam, a low-key pediatric neurologist, won running as a pragmatist with state’s Democratic establishment’s firm support. He has also vowed to fight Trump, but with pledges to work with state Republican lawmakers on issues like a tax overhaul.

Virginia is one of only two states electing new governors this year, and the swing-state contest is likely to draw intense national scrutiny for signs of how voters are reacting to Trump’s first year in office.

Frank Von Richter said he voted for Northam because he likes that the lieutenant governor is more “middle of the road” than Perriello and thinks he will work better with a Republican-controlled General Assembly. The retired Richmond resident said Northam is strong on issues like education and health care and will continue Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s efforts to bring more jobs to Virginia.

“I think he has the ability to move Virginia forward like McAuliffe has,” the 80-year-old said.

McAuliffe, who, like U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, backed Northam, is barred from seeking a consecutive term.

Perriello made a surprise entrance into the race in January and faced an uphill climb from the beginning. He energized many new-to-politics voters who oppose Trump and promised to support a grab-bag of progressive policies, like raising taxes on the wealthy, using public funds for political campaigns or mandating union membership.

ralph northam tom perriello Democratic Gubernatorial candidates Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, left, and former Congressman Tom Perriello, right, shake hands after a debate at a Union hall in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, May 9, 2017. AP Photo/Steve Helber

Although he received a large amount of attention and praise from prominent national Democrats, Perriello was ultimately unable to expand the universe of Democratic primary voters enough to counter Northam’s advantages.

Northam had been essentially campaigning for years, making key contacts with influential power brokers like prominent African-American politicians and religious leaders, and building up a large cash advantage that let him outspend Perriello on TV advertising in the closing weeks of the race.

Northam’s campaign ran a more traditional campaign focused heavily on his biography — rural upbringing, Army veteran, pediatric neurologist — as well as his endorsements from key progressive groups that make up the Democratic base like teachers and abortion-rights groups.

He will face the winner of the Republican primary between former Republican National Committee Ed Gillespie, former Trump state campaign chairman Corey Stewart and state Sen. Frank Wagner.


Associated Press reporters Ben Finley in Norfolk and Alanna Durkin Richer in Richmond contributed to this report.

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