WASHINGTON – The race for Virginia’s unique, one-term-and-done governorship kicked off in earnest last weekend with appearances by the GOP front-runner and two Democratic candidates.
“If your name isn’t Gillespie, and it isn’t Northam, you have to work twice as hard to get your name known, to get your presence out there,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington.
Gillespie officially kicked off his campaign Saturday with five appearances around the Virginia. His fellow Republican candidates are Prince William County Supervisor Corey Stewart, state Sen. Frank Wagner and businessman Denver Riggleman.
Virginia Democratic party leaders had hoped that Northam would sail unopposed to the nomination, but former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello, a Charlottesville Democrat, has other ideas.
“Voters are not too excited about a situation in which the party establishment decides who should be the option two years out,” Perriello told MSNBC on Jan. 8.
Both Perriello and Northam appeared at a rally in Richmond on Sunday.
Farnsworth said voters and party leaders in both camps face some tough decisions in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential win.
“Democrats are wondering how aggressive, how vigorously liberal they can be and still win a statewide election,” he said.
But Republicans will have to decide what kind of candidate they’ll support.
“Do they want to double down on a Donald Trump – style candidate, or find someone who is a more establishment-friendly Republican?” Farnsworth said.
Another factor for Virginia Republicans: the party has ditched its state convention and returned to a primary to pick its nominees for statewide offices.
A primary open to any Republican voter is expected to favor an establishment candidate, whereas grass roots activitsts have more sway in a low-turnout convention.
As for all the interest in the campaign so soon, Farnsworth said the Virginia governor’s race, which come one year after the presidential election, is seen as a gauge of how the president is doing.