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Ralph Northam Wins Democratic Gubernatorial Nomination in Virginia

Ally Boguhn

Tom Perriello and Ralph Northam were locked in what was believed to be a tight race, with both Democrats' records on reproductive rights taking the spotlight.

Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam won the state’s Democratic primary Tuesday against former U.S. Congressperson Tom Perriello. He will take on Republican Ed Gillespie, who won his party’s nomination, in the November gubernatorial contest.

Northam came out victorious after receiving 55.9 percent of the votes, while Perriello garnered 44.1 percent, according to Virginia’s Department of Elections. In an unexpectedly tight race, Gillespie edged out a narrow victory with 43.7 percent of the votes while Corey Stewart, an ally of President Trump, received 42.5 percent.

Perriello congratulated Northam on his victory Tuesday evening on Twitter, calling for party unity in the gubernatorial race. Stewart reportedly refused to concede, telling a crowd, “There is one word you will never hear from me, and that’s unity,” according to the Washington Post.

“Virginia voters have delivered a strong message in support of women, families, and our shared progressive values,” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement on the Democratic primary results. “Both candidates in this race ran campaigns with a strong commitment to defending our reproductive freedom and harnessed the fresh perspectives and deep enthusiasm that are fueling Democratic candidates across the nation.”

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Perriello and Northam were locked in what was believed to be a tight race, with both Democrats’ views and records on reproductive rights taking the spotlight.

While in Congress, Perriello cast a vote in favor of the anti-choice Stupak Amendment, which would have barred those with subsidized health insurance plans from purchasing plans covering abortion care. He has since said he regrets the vote and vowed to protect reproductive rights in Virginia should he be elected, telling Rewire in May that he hoped to be “a partner and an ally to movement groups that have been doing a great job of expanding and shifting the dialogue” on reproductive rights in the state.

Northam earned the endorsement of reproductive rights and health advocates on the campaign trail, including NARAL and local affiliate NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. Those groups cited the lieutenant governor’s history defending access to reproductive health care. Northam as a state senator fought against Republican efforts to pass and implement forced ultrasounds for abortion patients. He has continued to speak out in defense of reproductive rights since assuming the lieutenant governor’s office and while on the campaign trail.

As lieutenant governor, Northam sought to expand contraceptive access and announced in January a $6 million, one-year pilot program to help eligible Virginia residents receive free coverage of long-acting, reversible contraceptive options. He promised that if elected he would seek to codify into state law the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, which the Trump administration is seeking to eliminate.

Perriello and Northam’s campaign platforms had considerable overlap on policy positions—including raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, expanding Medicaid in Virginia, and promising to maintain Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s (D) legacy of restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated.

The Democratic candidates broke on a handful of key issues.

Both support paid family leave, but Perriello backed a statewide policy while Northam has proposed giving businesses a tax credit to encourage them to offer the benefit, a tactic often used by Republicans that some experts say would do little to spark change. Northam told Rewire in May that his position on this issue wasn’t firm and he would consider other paid family leave policies.

The two Democrats split on whether Virginia should move forward with proposed fracking pipelines. Perriello firmly opposed the construction of the Atlantic Coast pipeline and refused to accept campaign donations from the project’s largest stakeholder, Dominion Energy.

Northam did not take a firm position on the issue. He instead called for strict environmental analysis of the project and said he would follow the recommendations of federal agencies on whether it should move forward. Northam has accepted campaign donations from Dominion, though he has called for campaign finance reform banning corporate political donations.

Northam’s rival in the general gubernatorial race, Gillespie, told the crowd at an April GOP candidate forum that he “believes life begins at conception,” language in line with the radical “personhood” movement that seeks to legally redefine when life begins as a way to end legal abortion. Gillespie said if elected he would sign into law restrictions such as a 20-week ban and medically unnecessary targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws.

CORRECTION: This piece has been updated to clarify the percentage of votes Northam received in the Democratic primary.

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