Democrat Ralph Northam handily defeated Republican Ed Gillespie in the Virginia governor race on Tuesday in a contest that was being closely watched for signs of the national electorate’s mood.
by ALEX SEITZ-WALD
FAIRFAX, Virginia (NBC News) – With 99 percent of the counted, Northam had 54 percent and Gillespie trailed with 45 percent and he conceded in a speech last night to his supporters several hours after the polls closed and wished the incoming governor all the best.
Both national parties spent millions of dollars in the first major election since President Donald Trump‘s surprise victory last year and were closely eyeing the outcome as an early barometer of the political climate ahead of next the 2018 midterm contests.
“The Democratic Party is back my friends!” Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said as he took the stage at Northam’s party, switching between Spanish and English in his remarks.
Turnout was higher than in recent gubernatorial contests in Virginia, with more than 2.6 million votes counted by about 10 p.m. In the last two governor’s races, fewer than 2.3 million votes were cast in each.
Northam, an Army veteran and pediatric neurologist who serves as the state’s lieutenant governor, had sometimes struggled to highlight his ad-ready biography as the race descended into a nasty culture war.
He got a major boost from the support of popular term-limited Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who handed his successor a strong economy and an electorate that told pollsters they believe the state is on the right track.
Gillespie, a former lobbyist and Republican National Committee chairman, responded to a near-loss in the GOP primary against a Trump-aligned challenger earlier this year by taking a hard right turn on immigration and Confederate monuments.
According to NBC News exit polling data, 60 percent of Virginia voters said the monuments to Confederate leaders should be left in place, while 36 percent said that statues on government property should be removed.
Gillespie said he favored leaving the monuments to Confederate leaders but adding relevant historical details. Northam had said the monuments should be removed and put in museums, with the decision left in the hands of localities.
Trump endorsed but didn’t campaign for Gillespie and attacked him shortly after his loss on Tuesday night, tweeting from South Korea where he is traveling that the GOP candidate “did not embrace me or what I stand for.”