Gillespie will face off against Ralph Northam, the state’s current lieutenant governor, who secured the Democratic nomination, in November’s general election to succeed outgoing Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe. Northam has denounced Trump on the campaign trail, and even called the president a “narcissistic maniac” in an ad.
Ahead of Tuesday’s result, the Democratic primary had been viewed as the marquee contest in Virginia and an early test of Democratic voter sentiment in a battleground state in the Trump era given how competitive the race looked while the GOP primary appeared to be a near-lock for Gillespie. Northam’s defeat of Tom Perriello, a former representative who described himself as a “pragmatic populist” and won endorsements from progressive icons Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, is sure to disappoint the party’s liberal wing.
Both Democrats ran on a progressive policy agenda and meted out anti-Trump attacks, but there were meaningful differences between the candidates. While he took pains to emphasize a progressive voting record and platform, Northam’s campaign nevertheless lacked the pointed critique of corporate power that featured prominently in Perriello’s campaign as it channeled the economic populism that Sanders elevated to the forefront of American politics during the 2016 presidential primary.
It would be overly simplistic to say that Perriello’s defeat was a clear-cut loss for Sanders-style progressivism. The former congressman ran on a platform that did not entirely align with that of the Vermont senator’s presidential primary agenda, and labeled himself a “pragmatic populist.” But the outcome may nevertheless be taken as a rebuke of Sanders-style populism, even if the result of any individual race has only limited power to signal broader trends in the electorate.
It’s not yet clear exactly what the impact of the Republican primary result will be at the national level. On the campaign trail, Stewart framed his primary bid as a test of Trump’s appeal. Stewart gained notoriety during his primary race for a series of controversial statements he made in defense of Confederate memorials. In April, the Minnesota native faced backlash after tweeting: “Nothing is worse than a Yankee telling a Southerner that his monuments don’t matter,” in the midst of a nationwide debate over the removal of Confederate icons.
For his part, Gillespie attempted to sidestep national politics as much as possible by training his focus instead on statewide issues. “Virginians are focused on Virginia,” Gillespie told NBC in an interview. There were clear signs that Gillespie was attuned to the national political mood, however. During his campaign, he attempted to reach out to conservative voters concerned about illegal immigration with promises to step up enforcement.