- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 11, 2017

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam brought out the biggest political guns for his final weekend of campaigning in the hard-fought Democratic gubernatorial primary race in Virginia while former Rep. Tom Perriello barnstormed the state looking to press his advantage with progressive activists.

Voters on Tuesday are set to have the final say in the Democratic race, which analysis say is too close to call and turned out to be more competitive than the Republican gubernatorial contest.

“It’s a nail-biter with no clear favorite,” said Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government George Mason University. “Like many primary races, turnout will be key.

“Will Perriello’s younger voters turn out in big numbers and propel him to victory? Or will a typically low turnout among young voters tip the outcome to Northam?” Mr. Rozell said. “The contest also is a test whether the party establishment backing Northam has the ability to deliver votes.”

Mr. Northam campaigned over the weekend with the state’s three top Democrats — Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine — touting his experience and making the case that the race this fall will be a referendum on President Trump.

“We watched a campaign in 2016 that was based on hatred and bigotry and discrimination and fear and people like you all over the commonwealth are standing up and saying, ‘No, no, Mr. Trump, this is not the United States of America that we love, it is not the commonwealth of Virginia that we love, it is not what we are going to accept as the new normal,’” Mr. Northam told supporters and volunteers in Arlington. “So it is incumbent on all of us to take this energy to the polls on Election Day.”

Mr. Perriello, meanwhile, followed up a 24-hour campaign blitz Friday and Saturday with a trip Sunday to Hampton Roads, where he focused on issues of racial inequality and LGBT rights.

The Republican race initially grabbed most of the political spotlight.

Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, aggressively cast the race as the first test of Trumpism and painted Ed Gillespie, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, as a weak-kneed member of the Republican establishment who doesn’t have Mr. Trump’s back.

But polls have consistently shown Mr. Gillespie, who ran for U.S. Senate in 2014 and has chaired the Republican National Committee and the Virginia Republican Party, leading Mr. Stewart and state Sen. Frank Wagner into Election Day.

Mr. Northam, meanwhile, was cruising to the Democratic nomination before Mr. Perriello entered the race in January. Mr. Perriello represented the 5th Congressional District and then served as a diplomat under President Obama.

Hampton University released a poll on Thursday that showed Mr. Perriello with a 22 percent to 16 percent lead over Mr. Northam among registered voters who said they were likely to vote in the primary. But close to 40 percent of voters were undecided.

A Washington Post-Schar School Virginia poll released last month showed the Democrats locked in a statistical dead heat.

Mr. Northam and Mr. Perriello have regularly bashed Mr. Trump. They also have staked out similar policy positions on increasing the minimum wage, providing driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants and expanding Medicaid under Obamacare.

Mr. Perriello has aggressively embraced the “resistance,” opposed a pipeline project from Dominion Energy, vowed to raise taxes on the rich and stressed the need for elected leaders to address the economic challenges facing rural communities.

The 42-year-old appears to have emerged as the top pick for progressives, as well as young voters. He won endorsements from Sens. Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

He got a helping hand from Hollywood actor Mark Ruffalo, who called him a visionary in a fundraising email from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

“I wanted to ask you to please pay attention to this race and do what you can to help the bold progressive visionary, Tom Perriello,” Mr. Ruffalo said.

Mr. Northam has focused much of his message on gun control and abortion rights, and stressed his background as a doctor and lawmaker who led the charge for a smoking ban in Virginia and against an ultrasound bill that pro-choice activists opposed.

On Saturday, Mr. Kaine said Mr. Northam’s biography — as a military veteran, a pediatric neurologist and an elected official, six years as a state senator and three as lieutenant governor — makes him the best fit for the job in “one of the best bellwether states in the country.”

“These races will be interpreted as what does it say about the national political mood one year into the Trump presidency,” Mr. Kaine said. “In this race, people are going to be watching it, and they are going be watching to see what this critical battleground state thinks of this administration.”

Mr. McAuliffe said Mr. Northam is ready to build upon the progress his administration has made over the past four years.

“This is about our future, this is about Virginia. Forget Washington; this is about governance, good governance, and helping out children and educating them,” he said. “This is what we fight for each and every single day. We need Ralph in that office.”

Mr. Northam’s supporters said his experience is the difference maker.

Carole Liever, 61, said the endorsements Mr. Northam has received from top Democrats carry a lot of weight in her mind. She said his temperament and track record make him the best fit for the job.

“He has a lot more experience than Tom Perriello,” Ms. Liever said. “Tom is a great guy. We all helped him when he was running for Congress, but I just think that he doesn’t have the level of experience that Ralph has.”


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