Democrats in Va. gov. race debate pipelines, targeting Trump voters

WASHINGTON — Democrats Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former congressman Tom Perriello met for their second debate Thursday in the Virginia governor’s race, arguing over proposed pipelines and who can better appeal to voters who supported President Trump in last year’s election.

During the debate at Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke, both candidates said they were confident they could win over rural voters who largely vote Republican.

“Democrats ask why I’m spending so much time out in red country or Trump country,” Perriello said.

“One of the reasons you know I can reach these voters is I’ve done it before. I was able to get elected in the 5th district of Virginia, covering the Southside Virginia district.”

Northam countered, saying he has a record of compromising with the Republican-led General Assembly.

“I know how to win in rural Virginia. What we need to do in rural Virginia is go out and listen to what they’re having to say and say ‘you know what, we’re here to help you,'” said Northam.

The debate was mostly cordial and without wide disagreement on most issues, but the pair did clash over who had the better plan to help low-income individuals find better paying jobs.

Things also turned contentious when the candidates talked about a pair of natural gas pipelines that have been proposed in Virginia. The Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast pipelines would bring gas through the state from West Virginia.

When asked if they support the pipelines, Perriello said he absolutely does not.

“When we got into this race I asked two questions: is there any authority to do something about this? And, do we have a better idea?” said Perriello.

Northam, meanwhile, dodged the question, drawing jeers from members of the audience who wanted to hear a yes or no answer.

“I can tell you, though, that if the pipeline moves forward, I will make sure that it’s done with transparency,” Northam said.

Virginia’s gubernatorial race is getting national attention as a potential early referendum on Trump’s presidency.

There are three Republicans running.

They include former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, state Sen. Frank Wagner and Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart.

The primary election is June 13.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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