RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam won the Democratic nomination in the closely watched race for governor Tuesday, defeating a more liberal insurgent challenger in a contest to be one of the party's standard-bearers against President Donald Trump.
The three-way Republican primary remained too close to call, with ardent Trump supporter Corey Stewart doing surprising well against former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie. Stewart is a former Trump state campaign chairman who made preserving Virginia's Confederate history a top campaign issue while Gillespie had a huge fundraising advantage and enjoyed the solid backing of most state elected Republicans.
Northam defeated former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello, who ran as an unapologetic liberal crusader supported by prominent national Democrats like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as the best candidate to take on Trump.
Northam, a low-key pediatric neurologist, won running as a pragmatist with state's Democratic establishment's firm support. He gave a fiery victory speech Tuesday, vowing to win over Perriello supporters and lead Democrats in retaking control of the state House of Delegates in the general election.
"It is time for us to get back on offense and stop playing so much defense," Northam said.
The general election is expected to be an early referendum on the president and a preview of what the 2018 midterm elections will look like. Virginia is one of only two states electing new governors this year, and the swing-state contest is likely to draw intense national scrutiny for signs of how voters are reacting to Trump's first year in office.
At Northam's event in Arlington, there were cheers and high fives as news spread that he had been declared the victor.
A television over the bar displayed election returns and people examined their phones for breaking news.
Hyun Lee, 37, of Centreville, Virginia, who had done phone banking and knocked on doors for Northam, was one of the people at the party.
"I trust his leadership. I trust his dedication to all Virginians," Lee said of Northam. "He cares for everyone."
She said Northam has "proven he can work across the aisle."
Perriello made a surprise entrance into the race in January and faced an uphill climb from the beginning. He energized many new-to-politics voters who oppose Trump but was ultimately unable to expand the universe of Democratic primary voters enough to counter Northam's advantages.
Perriello pledged in his concession speech to help Northam and said his campaign had shown that a "movement" is "rising up."
"I don't know about you, but I'm inspired to keep fighting tonight," Perriello said.
Northam had been essentially campaigning for years, making key contacts with influential power brokers like prominent African-American politicians and religious leaders, and building up a large cash advantage that let him outspend Perriello on TV advertising in the closing weeks of the race.
Northam's campaign ran a more traditional campaign focused heavily on his biography — rural upbringing, Army veteran, pediatric neurologist — as well as his endorsements from key progressive groups that make up the Democratic base like teachers and abortion-rights groups.
Associated Press reporters Ben Finley in Norfolk and Alanna Durkin Richer in Richmond contributed to this report.