- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam, Democrat, met Tuesday with pro-choice activists in Northern Virginia and started airing television ads boasting of opposition to gun-rights groups, seeking to strengthen his position among the state’s liberal voters ahead of the gubernatorial primary in June.

Mr. Northam is facing off against former Rep. Tom Perriello in what’s turning into a push to the left among the state’s Democrats.

It marks a big shift from past statewide races, when Democrats tried to claim the political center. A decade ago, then-Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine cut commercials for his governor’s bid touting his opposition to same-sex marriage and calling himself a “conservative on personal responsibility, character, family and the sanctity of life.”

On the campaign trail this go-round, Mr. Northam and Mr. Perriello are both embracing same-sex marriage, backing pro-choice groups, supporting rights for illegal immigrants and bashing the National Rifle Association.

Virginia has moved from being a southern state to being a mid-Atlantic state and a third of the state has acted more like New Jersey,” said former Rep. Tom Davis, Republican. “The politics have gotten much less southern in their nature. Democrats that were nervous about guns, certainly nervous about gay rights, the environment, and abortion — that is no longer the case.”

Virginia’s leftward drift has been most striking at the presidential level, where then-candidate Barack Obama broke a decades-long GOP streak in 2008. Democrats’ margins have only grown since then.

“We are the only battleground state where Hillary [Clinton] won by a larger margin in 2016 than President Obama did in 2012 and a lot of these issues when I first got started in politics in Virginia, Democrats were kind of quiet on or didn’t want to be featured on,” said state Sen. Adam Ebbin, who is backing Mr. Northam. “I think people are realizing that more and more Virginians and the new Virginia is more of an evolving state, a mid-Atlantic state, an enlightened state, than a state like Mississippi or Alabama is perceived to be.”

Polls have since shown the race for the Democratic nomination is tight and both camps have exchanged jabs over who is most in tune with the party’s base.

Mr. Northam says Mr. Perriello has defected from liberal orthodoxy by voting for the pro-life “Stupak amendment” during the Obamacare debate, and by touting his “A” rating and campaign contributions from the NRA during his time in Congress.

“For someone to call themselves progressive in Virginia as a Democrat and have an ‘A’ rating and take money from the NRA, I find that being somewhat hypocritical,” Mr. Northam told The Washington Times.

Mr. Perriello says he’s fallen out of favor with the NRA, and his aides said the former congressman’s progressive record — which includes his vote for Obamacare, a repeal of the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays and lesbians serving in the military, and a vote for a cap-and-trade scheme to combat global warming — speaks for itself.

Mr. Perriello’s team also said Mr. Northam is trying to distract voters from the blemishes on his record — including his acknowledgment that he twice voted for President George W. Bush.

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