Last night, Virginia held its primaries for governor, council of state and legislative races. While the telling time will be in November, the results point to continued enthusiasm among Democrats and stark division among Republicans. The Democratic primary had almost 70% more voters than the last contested gubernatorial primary in 2009, while Republicans had squeaker of an election that almost saw an historic upset.
In the Democratic primary, Lt. Governor Ralph Northam defeated former Congressman Tom Perriello. Northam was the establishment favorite who had the backing of the state’s leading Democrats including Governor Terry McAuliffe and US Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. While most polls showed Northam the favorite, he won by a larger margin than expected.
There are a few lessons in this primary for upstart candidates and campaigns. While I didn’t pay close attention to the race, my social media feeds were almost all Perriello all the time. A lot of those folks weren’t even from Virginia, but Perriello tapped into activist enthusiasm among younger voters. Northam spent his money more traditionally, reportedly spending almost three times as much on television as Perriello in some markets. While new media can gin up needed excitement and reach a portion of the base, television is still king in reaching the most voters, especially in primaries where voters are older.
On the Republican side, most people expected former RNC Chair and former gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie to coast to victory. Instead, he was almost upset by neo-Confederate Trump backer Corey Stewart. That’s bad news for the GOP. Stewart also forced Gillespie to right, defending Confederate monuments and further alienating minority groups from the Republican Party.
The real story of last night might be the enthusiasm among Democrats. According a smart guy on twitter, almost 60% of the ballots cast last night were for Democrats. General elections can look a lot different than primaries, but there’s certainly a bunch of fired up Democrats. If they stay that way through November of this year, Virginia Democrats will have a good cycle. If they stay engage through November of next year, Democrats will probably be riding a wave.