An Introduction to the VA Gubernatorial Primary Candidates

By: Philip Whitman

Confronted with the train wreck that is Donald Trump’s presidency, many Democrats are weighing the pros and cons of dozens of potential challengers for 2020. Even Trump himself has dabbled in reelection politics. Rather than stay in Washington and do the hard work of governing, he has begun holding campaign rallies more than three years before the votes are cast, to say nothing of the regular trips to his Mar-a-Lago Resort.

As important as 2020 might be, focusing too much on it does a great disservice to the many state and federal races that will be held in the interim. Here in Virginia, not a year goes by without some kind of election; in addition to the contests for lieutenant governor and attorney general, 2017 presents us with a pivotal fight to retain the governor’s mansion.

In light of the administration in Washington and Republican majorities in both houses of the General Assembly (an important topic in its own right, as we attempt to narrow the gap in the House of Delegates), it is vital to hold the governorship. Among his accomplishments, Gov. Terry McAuliffe has brought jobs to the Commonwealth, restored voting rights to ex-felons, and resisted attempts to restrict a woman’s right to choose. Allowing a Republican to succeed him would put these and many other advances at risk.

For a long time, the choice to succeed McAuliffe seemed self-evident: Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam faced no competition to head the Democratic ticket, and his progressive record and long-time support of down ballot candidates made him a popular choice. Moreover, he has also garnered endorsements from scores of elected officials across the state. Perhaps the most common critique is that he possesses a laconic demeanor, though having heard him speak multiple times I think he is perfectly capable of connecting with an audience.

However, the New Year brought forth a new candidate: former Rep. Tom Perriello. On policy, his differences with Northam are few. Notably, he opposes new pipelines in Virginia, and aims to appeal to non-traditional voters in an attempt to broaden the Democratic base. Yet, like Northam, there are criticisms. Since leaving Congress, his work for a think tank and then in the Obama Administration left him unable to participate in party-building activities, and his late gubernatorial announcement upset many who hoped to avoid a contest for the nomination.

While I have my own thoughts on the race, I seek not to advocate for either Northam or Perriello, but rather offer an introduction to an election of which many are not yet aware. With the primary less than three months away, I encourage Democrats to educate themselves and become involved in the process. Visit the candidates’ web sites ( and and if you are able, listen to them in person. And of course, vote for your preferred choice on June 13th. If we engage the public and unite behind our nominee, whoever it might be, I am confident that we can keep Virginia blue this November and reenergize our party for the fights to come.