Va. Voters Pick Contenders for Statewide, House Races as Polls Open

WASHINGTON — Virginia primary voters will head to the polls today to choose nominees for the state’s top two posts plus legislative seats in a closely watched election that is considered the first indicator of President Donald Trump’s popularity with the electorate since he took office.

The polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. and primary election results are expected to roll in throughout the evening.

But turnout is generally expected to be low in Virginia’s off-year statewide election leaving party faithful to decide whose names will appear on the ballot in November for governor, lieutenant governor and House of Delegate seats around the state. But their choices could also determine what kind of candidates they want from both the Democratic and Republican parties in the future as two candidates have tried to capitalize on their outsider status and pull their parties away from the political center.

Despite the national spotlight on this year’s contests, mundane matters like taxes, jobs and funding for transportation have dominated the discourse during the primary season. However a proposed natural gas pipeline and preserving images of the state’s Confederate past have also injected some heat into the campaigns. Trump has also turned up regularly in the campaign rhetoric.

Five men are vying for the chance to succeed Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat who is barred by term limits from running again.

Democrats Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former Congressman Tom Perriello are running neck in neck in the polls despite Northam’s fundraising edge and Perriello’s relatively late entrance in the race. Perriello, of Alexandria, has campaigned to be a foil to Trump’s policies whereas Northam, of Norfolk, has touted his experience in state government and has pledged to build on the accomplishments of the McAuliffe administration. The two men generally hold similar policy positions.

Ed Gillespie, former chair of the Republican National Committee, is the front-runner in the three-way Republican nomination contest both in the polls and in fundraising. Gillespie has sidestepped taking positions on Trump or his policies and has not as warmly embraced the party’s top official as his opponents have. Frank Wagner joined Trump’s Virginia campaign and Corey Stewart, who led the state’s Trump campaign, is an ardent supporter of the president.

Gillespie, of Fairfax County, has offered a traditional Republican platform of lower taxes to stimulate the economy and good governance. Wagner, of Virginia Beach, has focused on his 25 years of experience in Richmond — arguing he’s the only candidate who knows how state government works and that the tax plans of his opponents are realistic. Stewart, of Woodbridge, has called for tougher immigration enforcement, tax cuts, and preserving images of the state’s Confederate history. He offers an alternative conservative platform to what he refers to as Gillespie’s “establishment” proposals.

Additionally voters will choose a candidate for lieutenant governor — the state’s No. 2 elected post. Three candidates are seeking their party’s nomination in both the Republican and Democratic primaries.

A largely ceremonial post, the lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate but can also break ties during floor votes and determines which party controls the chamber if neither holds a majority.

All 100 House of Delegates seats are up for election this year and candidates face contested primaries in many districts in Northern Virginia. Democrats in particular have crowded fields to choose from on Tuesday as candidates have lined up to run in seven Republican-held districts.

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