As long expected, former Republican National Chairman Ed Gillespie captured his party’s nomination for governor of Virginia Tuesday night.
But so unexpectedly close was his primary victory over Donald Trump’s 2016 state chairman — 1.2 percent of the vote or 4,300 votes out of roughly 350,000 cast — that Gillespie goes into the fall campaign an underdog against Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam.
“It will be a Democratic year unless the trajectory changes,” former Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., a past chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told Newsmax.
Centrist Democrat Northam emerged from the Democratic primary, which drew roughly 150,000 more voters than the Republican contest, with a margin of nearly 55 percent of the vote over far-left former Rep. Tom Perriello.
Perriello, who had the endorsements of Democratic Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, promptly endorsed Northam in the fall race.
In sharp contrast, however, narrow GOP loser and Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart told supporters flatly that he would not endorse Gillespie.
“There is one word that you will never hear from me and that is unity,” declared Stewart, explaining that he and his fellow populists have “been backing down too long” by deferring to those they consider “establishment” Republicans.
Less than three years after he nearly pulled off a major upset against Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, Gillespie, 56, had the backing of most elected Republicans and party officials in his bid for governor. With a $4 million spending advantage over Stewart and polls showing him with a double digit lead days before the voting, Gillespie appeared a cinch.
But turnout was unusually low for Virginia Republicans, who traditionally choose their statewide candidates through a convention system. Stewart blitzed counties far from Gillespie’s home base in the Northern Virginia suburbs, slamming the front-runner as “Establishment Ed” for his past positions as a top aide to President George W. Bush and head of the RNC.
Like Trump, Stewart underscored the themes of cutting taxes and stemming the tide of illegal immigration. (As his county’s top official in 2008, Stewart successfully pushed a measure empowering police to request proof of citizenship from those they were arresting.)
Stewart also aligned himself with supporters of the Confederate flag and Confederate monuments, both of which are subject to growing calls for removal from official sites throughout Virginia. (Several local wags pointed out that the candidate dubbed “far right” in the press was actually born in Minnesota and began his career as an aide to the state’s moderate former GOP Sen. David Durenberger.)
State and national Republicans are expected to make Gillespie’s election in one of two races for governor this year a top priority. For now, however, all signs are that it will be an uphill contest.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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