2017 is a big election year in the Commonwealth and the race for Virginia’s top executive is growing more intense as the June 13 primary approaches.
On the Republican side, former Virginia U.S. Senate candidate Ed Gillespie leads the crowded ticket in recent polls. Gillespie formerly served as both chair of the Republican National Committee and chair of the Republican party of Virginia. He then ran against Democrat Mark Warner in the 2014 midterm elections, narrowly losing to the incumbent senator.
Other Republicans running for the Republican nomination include state senator Frank Wagner, businessman Denver Riggleman and Corey Stewart, Chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. Wagner is a Navy veteran who has served as a state senator since 2002. Air Force veteran Riggleman owns and operates a craft distillery outside of Charlottesville in Afton, focusing his campaign on small business and economic issues.
Corey Stewart is known by most in the state for his role in the Donald Trump presidential campaign. Stewart served as Trump’s Virginia chairman until he was removed from his position on October 10, 2016, after participating in a protest outside of the Republican National Committee (RNC) headquarters in Washington, D.C. The protest hoped to encourage the establishment Republicans to show more support for Trump as his popularity grew. The Trump campaign, however, disavowed the protest, hoping to simmer tensions with the national party.
On the Democratic side, the election is increasingly becoming a test of who has the most progressive credentials. Typically, Virginia Democrats tend to be moderates compared to their national counterparts, however, Virginia is a much different state now.
Virginia voted for Democrat Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012 and was the only southern state to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. All three of the statewide offices are also currently held by Democrats, emboldening this year’s two candidates seeking the nomination to take much more progressive stances.
Northam has long focused on women’s reproductive health and recently campaigned heavily against the state legislature’s plan to defund Planned Parenthood in the state. In recent weeks, Northam also came out in support of decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, citing the high costs to law enforcement, its disproportionate effect on the jailing of African Americans and increasingly apparent medical benefits.
Perriello, meanwhile, has been criticized by Democrats for his past support of an amendment to bar insurance companies from covering abortions, a position which he publicly apologized for on the day he announced his campaign. Perriello recently made his own big announcements, first calling for two-years of free community college for Virginia graduates. He also opposes the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline in Virginia and has pledged not to accept any campaign contributions from Dominion.
Northam has the backing of current governor Terry McAuliffe, as well as both Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. Still, Perriello is boasting impressive campaign numbers and in recent polling was near-tied with Northam.
The primary for Virginia’s governor race is June 13 and the general election is November 7. Virginians will also be voting for Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, all members of the House of Delegates and some local offices depending on locality.