Virginia has long been a bellwether for political trends in the United States. Following the last close gubernatorial election in 2013, between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli, Hillary Clinton won the state by 8 points.
But this race is far from a match race. While Mr. McAuliffe was an incumbent, Mr. Northam is a first-term state senator and Mr. Gillespie a former chairman of the Republican National Committee. Neither has managed to gain significant traction with either side’s base – the Republicans have a significantly higher percentage of college graduates and Democrats a majority of single mothers and women.
But while both men promise to strengthen the state’s economy and workforce, they are strikingly different in how they do so. Mr. Northam, an African-American pediatric neurologist who hails from Central Virginia, says he would like to see “full employment” for Virginians. The 59-year-old Mr. Gillespie, a one-time Republican Party official from Southern Virginia, says he would move to “bring back the heart of the middle class.”
Among other issues, Mr. Northam has been eager to speak out against the controversial Confederate monuments that line the state’s roads. Mr. Gillespie has come out in support of Confederate monuments and said they should be protected. The elder Mr. Northam, an attorney and Civil War veteran, called the monuments “monuments to oppression.” He also said that the statues should remain “ourirs.”
Mr. Northam has been more aggressive in his calls for more government-funded and -assisted child care. He has advocated for government assistance for those who already need it. But Mr. Gillespie has stated that government-funded child care was the responsibility of the states.
The men have the same number of campaign donations and have raised the same amount of money. They have similarly high favorability ratings: 48 percent and 47 percent, respectively. The preference of voters is essentially close with a margin of 1 percent. The final week will see an extraordinary number of presidential-level speeches and campaign appearances from both men – with Mr. Trump scheduled to attend a rally for Mr. Gillespie on Friday in the Norfolk suburb of South Norfolk.
The race now heads to the Tuesday, April 4, primary. Mr. Gillespie must capture 50 percent of the vote to get the GOP nomination outright. To win, he must win over more than 50 percent of Republican voters; he also needs to take at least 5 percent of Democratic and independent voters and effectively split the vote with another Republican candidate.