Politicos Watching Anxiously as Virginia, New Jersey Elect New Governors

Republican Ed Gillespie trails Democrat Ralph Northam in the swing state, but the race has tightened in recent days

by Kathryn Blackhurst | Updated 07 Nov 2017 at 11:36 AM

Tuesday is Election Day in several states, and all eyes have turned toward Virginia’s tight gubernatorial race between Republican Ed Gillespie and Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam — which many view as a precursor to how President Donald Trump’s policies will fare in the 2018 midterm elections.

The latest polls show Virginia’s race is extremely tight. The RealClearPolitics average of the last week of polls showed Northam ahead by 3.3 percentage points. A Fox News poll conducted November 2-5 showed him up by 5 points. But a Rasmussen poll done October 31 to November 3 showed the race was a tie. On Election Day in 2016, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton — running alongside Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine — defeated Trump in the state by 5 percentage points.

Trump took to Twitter Tuesday to remind Virginia voters of what is at stake in the election, saying, "Ralph Northam will allow crime to be rampant in Virginia. He's weak on crime, weak on our GREAT VETS, Anti-Second Amendment … and has been horrible on Virginia economy. Vote @EdWGillespie today!"

"@EdWGillespie will totally turn around the high crime and poor economic performance of VA. MS-13 and crime will be gone. Vote today, ASAP!" Trump added.

During an interview in late October on "The Laura Ingraham Show," Gillespie — a former chair of the Republican National Committee — assured Virginia voters that he supports Trump's "America First" agenda and will "work closely" with the president to make life better for Virginians.

Should Northam lose, it would provide a demoralizing blow to Democrats, who are coalescing to defy Trump and his agenda post-2016, but have failed to clinch a significant congressional victory throughout 2017's spate of special elections. After the deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, Northam's campaign attempted to tie Gillespie, Trump and Republicans to white supremacy in a bid to woo minority voters.

Although Northam remains ahead in polls by a slim margin, Republicans were heartened as the gap between the two candidates narrowed significantly over the past couple of months. If Gillespie loses the race by a slim margin in a state that former President Barack Obama and Clinton carried for three presidential cycles, Republicans may claim that as a victory of sorts.

As for New Jersey's gubernatorial race, Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno trails Democrat Phil Murphy by several points, although the margin has narrowed over the past few months. While the latest Quinnipiac University poll shows Murphy with a 12-point lead among likely voters, the same poll showed him with a 20-point lead on October 25. Guadagno's chances of victory, however, were also tainted by deeply unpopular incumbent Republican Gov. Chris Christie's legacy.

Both Gillespie and Guadagno also made a point of echoing Trump's national campaign style during past months by blasting "sanctuary cities" that harbor illegal immigrants and refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officers.

Should the two Republican gubernatorial candidates bring their election results within a few percentage points of their Democratic peers, it would serve to galvanize both parties as they gear up for the 2018 midterm elections and the 2020 presidential election, with Trump's policies on the line.

(photo credit, homepage image: Candidates for Governor and Lt Governor..., CC BY-SA 2.0, by Edward Kimmel / Ed GillespieCC BY-SA 2.0, by Gage Skidmore; photo credit, article image: Lt Governor Ralph Northam..., CC BY-ND 2.0, by Virginia Sea Grant)

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