RICHMOND, Va. (AP/WRIC) – Virginia voters have begun casting their votes in the state’s closely watched primary contests for governor that could be an early referendum on President Donald Trump. Polls in Tuesday’s primary races are open until 7 p.m.
The Democratic primary contest has been a hard fought battle between Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the state party establishment’s favorite, and insurgent candidate Tom Perriello. Both candidates have pledged fierce opposition to Trump and his policies.
On the Republican side, front-runner Ed Gillespie, a moderate Washington insider, is trying to fend off under-funded but spirited campaigns from avid Trump supporter Corey Stewart and state Sen. Frank Wagner
Voters are also choosing candidates for lieutenant governor and several state House seats.
We’re helping you get personal with Virginia’s candidates for governor. WRIC sat down with all five candidates to learn more about why they want to be your next governor.
He’s considered the front-runner among the GOP, and Ed Gillespie wants to be your next governor.
“It would mean an opportunity to serve my fellow Virginians,” he said.
The son of an Irish immigrant, he spent his childhood working in his parents’ market.
“In my family when you turned 12 years old you got a birthday cake and a present and a four-hour shift at the JC Market.”
He went on to start three small businesses of his own.
After high school it was college at The Catholic University of America in D.C. That’s where he worked as a Senate parking lot attendant. He eventually worked his way up to be counselor to President George W. Bush.
Many Virginians would agree he’s the most controversial candidate in the race for governor. But that doesn’t bother Corey Stewart.
“I’m not afraid of controversy,” he said.
Stewart describes himself as having executive-style leadership.
“I’ve been governing the second largest county in Virginia for the last 10 years, Prince William County. I’m directly elected as the chairman,” he said.
He wants to bring that experience to a statewide stage as governor. He outlined three ways he wants to make that happen.
Tom Perriello admits he hasn’t always liked politics, but he’s running for governor because he says the time is right.
“I believe there are moments where it’s really important for people to step up and do that form of public service and I think this is one of those moments,” he said.
Born in Charlottesville, Perriello has been a member of Congress and a diplomat representing the U.S. He worked as a negotiator in central Africa.
He describes himself as progressive and problem-solving.
“One of the things I’ve done for the last 20 years is fight for progressive causes like fighting against inequality and for civil rights and voting rights,” he said. “But I also believe that it’s not about taking a stand for the sake of how loud you can shout. It’s about how you get things done.”
Ralph Northam wants to go from lieutenant governor to governor. The VMI grad spent eight years in the U.S. Army and more than 25 as a pediatric neurologist.
Northam says he’s been able to bring his experience in health care to policy making.
“One of the things that we were able to do just after being elected to the Senate, we passed a smoking ban in restaurants in Virginia,” said Northam. “That’s made it a lot healthier for our families, and that’s something I’m very proud of.”
Considering his medical background, it’s no surprise he’s pushing for affordable and quality health care.
“No Virginian should be one medical illness away from financial demise,” he said.
Northam says he’s also been fighting for the last 10 years for women to have access to reproductive health care.
Frank Wagner has been part of Virginia’s General Assembly for the last 25 years. He started in the House of Delegates before making his way to the Senate. But he doesn’t want to end there.
“It would be the highest honor of my life to be elected governor,” he said.
Wagner lives in Virginia Beach and is in the ship repair business. He says improving transportation is a key part of his platform.
“We do not have a transportation network necessary for the economy we have today, much less an economy we expect to grow and diversify,” he said. “We’re going to need to make those investments and I think it’s very important.”
Wagner says different areas have different transportation needs. One of his priorities is constructing Interstate 73 and the Coal Fields Expressway in order to create more jobs in southside and southwest Virginia.
Click here for full coverage of Tuesday’s primaries.