WASHINGTON — Seven months after the presidential election, Virginians are going back to the polls, as primaries for governor and lieutenant governor are set for Tuesday.
While one candidate for governor appears to be a mortal lock to win his party’s nomination, the other party’s candidates are in a dead heat.
Despite his career as a political professional, Ed Gillespie is a heavy favorite to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
“He’s always carried the stigma of being more of a Washington insider type: lobbyist, RNC official,” said Mark Rozell, professor of public policy at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government.
But Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, became a statewide name during his Senate campaign, which he lost to Democrat Mark Warner.
And Rozell says it looks like Gillespie has shed the “insider” tag.
“That’s what his main opponent, Corey Stewart, has tried to tap into in this campaign — although I would say, not all successfully.”
Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, trails Gillespie in the polls, while Sen. Frank Wagner is third.
Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam was supposed to cruise to the Democratic nomination.
“Everyone thought that this would be a coronation,” said Rozell.
But former Rep. Tom Perriello changed that, staking out political territory to the left of Northam and winning some big-name endorsements, including Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
The race is too close to call, even as Rozell says both men have big advantages in specific voter groups.
“Perriello is hugely winning among younger voters — about a two-to-one margin. And Northam is hugely winning among middle-age and above voters.”
But Perriello’s advantage comes with a big “if.”
“Young voters are a bit more fickle when it comes to actually showing up than other age cohorts,” said Rozell. “That is the real uncertainly.”
Read more details on the candidates for governor of Virginia.