Power of anti-Trump resistance in question in Virginia race

2017-10-28 22:18


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Richmond - Virginia's gubernatorial election stands as a test for the anti-Donald Trump resistance and whether it can energise voters and donors for the less glamorous races featuring traditional Democratic politicians.

The November 7 contest pits Democratic Lt Governor Ralph Northam, a physician, Army veteran and former state senator, against Ed Gillespie, onetime aide to President George W Bush and former head of the Republican Party. The current governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, is term-limited.

The stakes in Virginia are immense: Though Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won the state by five percentage points in 2016, Republicans typically are more likely to turn out in off-year statewide elections. Northam has led in most polls, but the race is close.

Political rally

A loss would be devastating after Democrats failed to capture any GOP-held seats in contested special congressional elections earlier this year that galvanised anti-Trump activists.

The next Virginia governor also will have a major say in the state's next congressional redistricting. A Republican wave in statehouse elections around the country in 2010 - just prior to the last redistricting - has helped the GOP maintain a firm grip on the House.

Former President Barack Obama highlighted the importance of the Virginia race last week at his first large political rally since leaving office, urging Democrats not to get "a little sleepy" in the off-year election.

"I think that it's great that you hashtag and meme," the former president told a crowd in Richmond, "but I need you to vote".

Not as engaged

Northam bested former Rep Tom Perriello, a populist favourite of the resistance who was backed by Senator Bernie Sanders, in the Democratic primary.

Sanders' political operation, Our Revolution, recently endorsed six Democrats running for the state House of Delegates, but did not endorse Northam. Diane May, a spokesperson for the group, said it can only endorse candidates recommended by local members and none in Virginia recommended Northam.

Some activists say it's obvious that the liberal wing of the party isn't as engaged in the governor's race.

"We absolutely want to see them win, but that's the difference between inspiring and driving a Democratic base to get out there for you and someone who you just want to win," said Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the group Democracy For America. "If he doesn't win, this will be why".

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