Hotly-contested Virginia governor’s race captures students’ attention

Both candidates have ties to Lexington, with Republican Ed Gillespie having spoken at Mock Convention in 2016 and Democrat Ralph Northam having graduated from VMI in 1981


Photo courtesy of the Roanoke Times

Elyse Ferris

As political advertisements flood local airwaves and polls show a dead heat race between the two candidates for governor, students at Washington and Lee are gearing up for the culmination of Virginia’s state election season on Nov. 7.

The gubernatorial election between Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam has been elevated to national prominence, as President Donald Trump has weighed in on the race via Twitter, and big-name politicians including Vice President Mike Pence, former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden have hit the campaign trail on behalf of their respective parties.

On campus, students from across the country are also paying attention to the gubernatorial race because it is one of the first significant statewide elections since Trump’s unexpected victory last November.

“As someone from outside of Virginia, it’s interesting to me that this race is coming to national attention,” said Caroline Trammel, ‘20, who is from Texas. “I think it will be really interesting to see how Trump’s policies have impacted other elections for Republicans.”

The current governor of Virginia, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, has endorsed Northam, who is currently serving as Virginia’s lieutenant governor. Northam hails from the eastern shore of Virginia, attended the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, served in the U.S. Army and worked as a pediatric neurologist.

President Donald Trump endorsed Gillespie in a tweet at the beginning of October. Gillespie grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Catholic University, worked as an advisor in the George W. Bush administration and chaired both the Republican Party of Virginia and the Republican National Committee.

Landon Courville, ‘19, interned for Gillespie’s campaign this summer and said he expects him to win.

“I think his governorship will be a productive one for Virginia, because he has been rolling out policy proposals all summer and fall that really work to help promote growth in many different aspects of Virginian life,” Courville said. “After last year some people may be tired of politics, but this is a critical election for Virginia and I am glad it is getting the attention it deserves.”

Current polls fail to consistently favor one candidate over the other.

A Fox News poll released Oct. 17 had Northam ahead of Gillespie 49 percent to 42 percent. A survey by Hampton University, released Oct. 22, had Gillespie ahead of Northam 41 percent to 33 percent. The most recent poll by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, released Friday, had Northam ahead by seven, 50 percent to 43 percent.

In addition to the gubernatorial race, Republican Jill Holtzman Vogel faces Democrat Justin Fairfax in the race for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. Incumbent Democrat Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring faces Republican John Adams, a former Bush White House Counsel and federal prosecutor.

Historically, Virginia is a swing state with geographic lines influencing voter preference. Heavy Democratic support is usually drawn from northern counties such as Arlington and Alexandria, as well as urban areas surrounding cities like Richmond, Roanoke and Norfolk. Western counties and rural areas typically garner heavier Republican sentiment.

Rockbridge County saw such a divide in last year’s presidential election. Lexington is a blue, urban center in the heart of a red, rural county. The more densely populated town, home to Washington and

Lee University and VMI, amassed more support for Democrat Hillary Clinton, while residents in rural areas of the county consistently supported the Republican Trump in greater numbers.

Some Washington and Lee clubs, such as the campus chapter of Amnesty International, have promoted Virginia voter registration among the student body.

Enrolled students’ status as temporary Lexington residents permits them to register as Virginia voters, regardless of where they’re originally from.

Washington and Lee Amnesty representative Rossella Gabriele, ‘19, said, “I encourage everyone to exercise their right to vote, because elections are where real change is made.”