Democratic candidate Ralph Northam triumphed over Republican Ed Gillespie to become Virginia’s governor Tuesday, capping an end to the nation’s most hotly contested gubernatorial race, according to a projection from the Associated Press. The election to replace Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, was largely seen as a gauge of Trump’s influence a year into his presidency, as well as a window into how the 2018 midterm elections might play out.
With 61 percent of the votes counted, Northam, the projected winner, led the race with 51.5 percent compared to Gillespie’s 47.3 percent. At press time, Libertarian candidate Clifford Hyra had 1.2 percent of the votes.
The victory comes as a relief for Democrats, who watched as Northam’s lead narrowed in the final days: With a week to go before the election, Northam led voters by just five percentage points — 49 percent compared to Gillespie’s 44 percent, according to a Washington Post-Shar School poll).
Some Democrats have already categorized the outcome as a rebuke to Trump.
But Virginia has also become an increasingly blue state over the last several years, and was the only southern state to vote for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. In addition to Northam’s victory, Democrat Danica Roem became the state’s first openly transgender legislator Tuesday evening, beating out Republican Robert Marshall, an anti-LGBTQ politician who recently introduced a bathroom bill in the state legislature. Democrat Justin Fairfax also easily clinched the lieutenant governor’s race to become the second black candidate to win a statewide office in Virginia. And though a more low-key contest, the race for Virginia’s attorney general also tipped in the Democrats favor; with 90 percent of votes reported, Democrat incumbent Mark Herring was announced as the winner.
But underscored by vicious ads, the gubernatorial race in particular became a barometer for Trump’s clout.
Northam, a former Army physician, promised to lead “the resistance” against Trump, who he explicitly called a liar. Northam also campaigned on Gillespie’s connection to the embattled president, whose approval ratings hit a historic low the day before the election.
Gillespie, a GOP insider, did echo several of the Trump administration’s positions, including a ban on abortion, refusing more restrictive gun control, and vowing to ban the establishment of sanctuary cities, though Virginia does not currently have any. He also took a page from Trump’s bombastic playbook, running an ad claiming Northam wanted to restore the rights of sex offenders.
Though Trump did not formally endorse Gillespie, the president did tweet in support of him for weeks before the election and again repeatedly throughout the day, urging Virginians to vote for the establishment candidate. On Tuesday morning, several hours after the polls opened, Trump tweeted Gillespie would “totally turn around the high crime and poor economic performance of VA” and urged his supporters to “Vote today, ASAP!”
Once the race was projected in Northam’s favor, however, Trump appeared to walk back his support.
But ultimately, Virginia voters rebuffed both Trump’s tweets and the negative ads, cementing a monumental win for Democrats.