Politics

In backlash to Trump, Democrat Ralph Northam wins Virginia governor's race

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam speaks to residents during a visit at Greenspring Retirement Community in Springfield, Va., last month.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam speaks to residents during a visit at Greenspring Retirement Community in Springfield, Va., last month.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democrat Ralph Northam has won the Virginia governor's race, defeating Republican Ed Gillespie according to the Associated Press.

Northam, the incumbent lieutenant governor, successfully rode an anti-Trump wave to victory over Gillespie's hard-line message on immigration and social issues he had hoped would help him prevail in the battleground state.

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The Old Dominion contest was the marquee race of the evening, though there are also important contests in New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Maine. But the Virginia race has the best potential to give a snapshot of the political landscape one year after President Trump's upset victory — and one year out from the 2018 midterms.

The last few weeks of the Virginia contest turned especially bitter as the race has tightened. Gillespie doubled down on a Trumpian message, promising a crackdown on violence by Latino gangs and pledging to protect Confederate monuments. The messaging was a major turn for the former Republican National Committee chairman, but if he is successful it could mean Republicans nationwide aren't afraid to embrace Trump's more populist, anti-establishment message come next year.

Northam, meanwhile, has tried to unite Democrats' centrist and progressive wings, but the sitting lieutenant governor upset the latter last week when he said he would be willing to sign a bill banning so-called sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants.

Polls in the final days showed a close race in Virginia, with Northam having a slight edge. The same wasn't the case in the other major 2017 governor's race, where New Jersey Democrat Phil Murphy easily bested Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. Outgoing GOP Gov. Chris Christie's numbers had plummeted in the Garden State, and Trump remains deeply unpopular there as well.

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This story has been updated.