Elections Governors
Governor's Race Steve Helber/AP

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, and his wife, Pam, right, vote in Norfolk, Va. on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. Northam was challenged by Republican Ed Gillespie.

November 07, 2017

Democrat Northam wins Virginia governor's race

RICHMOND, Va. — Democrat Ralph Northam has won Virginia's race for governor.

Early unofficial results show Northam defeated Republican Ed Gillespie on Tuesday, in a clear message of rebuke to President Donald Trump.

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Virginia's hard-fought race was closely watched as a swing-state test of Trump's popularity. Northam, a pediatric neurologist and the state's lieutenant governor, repeatedly tried to tie Gillespie to the president during months of divisive campaigning overshadowed by racial overtones and attack ads.

Northam's victory was in large part due to a surge in anti-Trump energy since the president took office. Democrats said they had record levels of enthusiasm heading into the race.

Gillespie kept Trump at a distance throughout the campaign but tried to rally the president's supporters with hard-edge ads focused on illegal immigration and preserving Confederate statues.

Trump tweeted about Gillespie's loss.

Northam's victory is another sign of the state's shift toward a more liberal electorate. Democrats have won every statewide election since 2009 and now have won four out of the last five gubernatorial contests. Northam banked heavily during the campaign on his near-perfect political resume and tried to cast himself as the low-key doctor with a strong southern drawl as the antidote to Trump.

"We need comfort food, Ralph is comfort food," Del. John Bell told volunteer canvassers at a rally over the weekend.

Northam made health care reform a centerpiece of his political career and current campaign, winning key allies along the way. As a state senator he was a leading opponent of a Republican effort to mandate ultrasounds before abortions in 2012, winning him strong support from well-funded abortion-rights groups.

Northam's victory is a blow to the GOP, which was hoping that Gillespie could provide a possible roadmap for moderate Republicans to follow in next year's midterm elections.

Democrats also took the only other gubernatorial race in the nation as Phil Murphy defeated Republican Kim Guadagno in New Jersey.

The wins in Virginia and New Jersey are a morale boost to Democrats who so far have been unable to channel anti-Trump energy into success at the ballot box in a major election this year.