Get instant alerts when news breaks on your stocks. Claim your 1-week free trial to StreetInsider Premium here.
By Gabriella Borter
(Reuters) -Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe leads a slate of Democratic candidates vying on Tuesday for the party’s gubernatorial nomination in a race that could offer signs of where voters stand after a divisive 2020 presidential election.
The winner of the primary will face off in November against Republican Glenn Youngkin, a former private equity executive who won his party’s nomination last month and immediately received former President Donald Trump’s endorsement.
The contest in Virginia is shaping up as a competitive statewide test for both parties following Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential victory with a record number of votes and Trump’s false claims of widespread voter fraud.
The outcome is being watched as a possible bellwether for voter sentiment ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, when Democrats will face an uphill battle to retain their majority in Congress.
“If the Republicans can manage to recapture Virginia, which has clearly moved in a Democratic direction, the prospects for Democrats in the midterm elections in 2022 will be dimmed; there’s just no doubt about it,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
Virginia has become more Democratic in recent years. No Republican has won statewide office in the Southern state since 2009, and Democrats have controlled both chambers of the legislature since 2019. Trump lost Virginia in 2020 by 10 percentage points, double his margin of defeat in 2016.
McAuliffe, a longtime Democratic Party fundraiser with close ties to former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has led the Democratic field in fundraising and polling as he again seeks the governorship he held from 2014 to 2018.
He had the support of 49% of likely Democratic voters in a Roanoke College Poll https://www.roanoke.edu/about/news/rc_poll_democratic_primary_2021 conducted between May 24 and June 1, with his four opponents trailing far behind.
The other Democratic candidates are state Senator Jennifer McClellan, former state Representative Jennifer Carroll Foy, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax and state Representative Lee Carter.
Under Virginia law, Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, who has endorsed McAuliffe, cannot run for a second consecutive term.
In New Jersey, the only other state holding its gubernatorial election this year, voters on Tuesday were choosing from among four Republicans vying to take on incumbent Democratic Governor Phil Murphy, who is running unopposed for a second four-year term and is considered likely to prevail in November.
Though Trump lost New Jersey handily in last year’s presidential election, he has loomed over the Republican contest. Jack Ciattarelli, a former state legislator, is seen as the front-runner, but two challengers, engineer Hirsh Singh and pastor Phil Rizzo, have attacked him for not being sufficiently pro-Trump.
REST OF FIELD VS. MCAULIFFE
McClellan or Carroll Foy are seeking to be both the first woman and first Black woman elected as Virginia’s governor.
McClellan, who has represented the Richmond region in the state House of Delegates and Senate for 15 years, was endorsed by the Virginia chapter of national abortion rights group NARAL and the Women of Color Coalition.
Carroll Foy, a former public defender who flipped a Republican district when she was elected to the Virginia House in 2017, clinched the endorsements of the Working Families Party and EMILY’S List, which works to elect women who support abortion rights. She resigned from the House in December to seek the governorship.
Fairfax is a former U.S. prosecutor who was accused by two women in 2019 of sexually assaulting them in the early 2000s, which he has denied.
McAuliffe has touted his achievements as governor, which included expanding voting rights for former felons and overseeing a drop in unemployment and a rise in personal income. The moderate Democrat has promised to build on his record by setting bolder goals to improve education, healthcare access and the job market in the post-COVID-19 economy.
During a debate on June 1, the other candidates took aim at McAuliffe and said Virginia needed to elect a new leader to deliver on more ambitious, progressive policies than what McAuliffe was able to accomplish as governor.
“Why does he deserve a second chance?” Carroll Foy said at the debate. She likened McAuliffe to Republican nominee Youngkin, calling them both “out-of-touch, millionaire politicians.”
Unlike many other Republican candidates seeking Trump’s favor, Youngkin has not echoed Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him. But Youngkin’s vow to make voting security one of his top priorities plays to the concerns of Republicans nationally.
Six in 10 Republicans believe Trump’s baseless assertion that he lost because of voting fraud, a Reuters poll from March 30-31 showed.
Dozens of judges rejected lawsuits asserting voting irregularities, and election officials across the country have said the 2020 vote was secure.
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in Washington, additional reporting by Joseph Ax in New Jersey; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)