Democrats filled out their slate of statewide candidates in primary elections Tuesday ahead of a fall contest sure to draw heaps of national attention, outside money and national political tea-leaf reading.
Heading the ticket is Terry McAuliffe, who was President Clinton’s chief money man during the 1990s before serving as chairman of the Democratic National Committee and head of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign. Mr. McAuliffe secured the nomination in April, when a filing deadline passed and he was unopposed. The run comes after a failed bid for governor four years ago.
Down the ticket, state Sen. Ralph Northam of Norfolk defeated former Obama administration technology czar Aneesh Chopra, lending some regional diversity to the ticket and putting the Democrats in a solid position in a race against Republican E.W. Jackson. Mr. Jackson, who was nominated at a party convention last month, has already drawn national attention for comments he’s made, for example, likening Planned Parenthood to the Ku Klux Klan.
“This was just a great day for us and for the Commonwealth,” Mr. Northam, who won nearly 55 percent of the vote, said on John Fredericks’ radio show Tuesday evening. “I’m just looking forward to moving on to Nov. 5 now.”
Mr. Northam, with 99 percent of precincts reporting, won 54 percent of the vote to Mr. Chopra’s 46 percent, according to unofficial results.
With the state Senate evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, the lieutenant governor’s position has taken on increased significance because of its role in casting tie-breaking votes, and could determine effective control of the chamber pending two special elections.
One will be for Mr. Northam’s seat. And the other will be for state Sen. Mark Herring of Loudoun, who defeated former federal prosecutor Justin Fairfax in the race for the party’s attorney general nomination, garnering about 52 percent of the vote with 99 percent of precincts reporting, according to unofficial results. He will face state Sen. Mark Obenshain, Harrisonburg Republican, in the fall election.
Democrats are hopeful about their prospects, pointing to recent polls showing Mr. McAuliffe with narrow but statistically significant leads over Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the Republican candidate for governor.
But Dave Rexrode, Mr. Cuccinelli’s campaign manager, said that “Virginia Democrats nominated three individuals that share a common bond: a clear history of support for policies — including higher taxes, big government programs and anti-competitive regulations — that will move Virginia backwards.
“As this race continues to take shape, Virginians will continue to see example after example of the stark contrasts that exist between the two candidates at the top of the ticket,” Mr. Rexrode said. “One who is willing to say anything and do anything to get elected, and another who has a history of fighting for Virginians and delivering actual results.”
In 2009, Mr. McAuliffe finished second in a three-way primary but has since traveled the state — perpetually, it sometimes seems — building up his bona fides with local party committees and business contacts.
The field cleared early for Mr. McAuliffe this time around, giving him the opportunity to amass a war chest of $5.4 million as of May 29, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. He’ll take that money into a general election contest against Mr. Cuccinelli, who had $2.7 million on hand.
The Democrat is billing himself as a problem-solving consensus-builder. But he has faced questions and criticism over an electric car company he co-founded in 2009 called GreenTech that has not lived up to projected production levels, as well as his plans to refurbish a shuttered paper mill in Franklin into a wood-fired power plant.
Earlier Tuesday, Mr. Cuccinelli jabbed at his opponent during a stop in Danville, an area of the state long suffering from chronic unemployment. The Republican argued he’s the only candidate in the race who has outlined specific policy proposals on jobs, energy and workforce development.
“I’ve also made very clear that I think it would be very appropriate to have a debate here in Danville … so I hope my opponent will take us up on that and we can talk about the issues that are particularly sensitive to this part of Virginia,” Mr. Cuccinelli said.
Mr. McAuliffe’s campaign, which has agreed to five debates against Mr. Cuccinelli, responded that the Democrat has visited 18 of the state’s 23 community colleges talking about their workforce training programs and that he rolled out a workforce development policy a month ago as part of his jobs agenda.
Mr. McAuliffe is hoping to cash in on the tremendous party organization President Obama has introduced to the state in the past two election cycles, which for years had been written off as a lock for Republican presidential nominees. Before Mr. Obama won in 2008, Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 was the last Democratic presidential nominee to carry Virginia. Before last year, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the last Democrat to carry it twice consecutively.
But after Mr. Obama’s historic win in 2008, in which about 75 percent of registered voters turned out in Virginia, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell romped to victory in 2009 in an election that saw a turnout of about 40 percent.