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Northam defeats Sanders-backed candidate in Va. gov primary

Northam defeats Sanders-backed candidate in Va. gov primary
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Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam has won the Democratic primary for Virginia governor, according to The Associated Press, marking a defeat for the party's progressive wing after it backed his opponent.

Northam was projected to defeat former Rep. Tom Perriello in Tuesday’s primary to succeed term-limited Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who is limited to only one term as governor. A victory for Northam is a major win for the state party’s establishment, which largely rallied around his campaign early.

Northam had received roughly 56 percent of the vote with approximately 60 percent of precincts reporting after 8 p.m., compared to Perriello's 44 percent.

The GOP race on Tuesday was too close to call, with former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie polling slightly ahead of Corey Stewart, the former co-chair of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump to fundraise for 3 Republicans running for open seats: report Trump to nominate former Monsanto exec to top Interior position White House aides hadn’t heard of Trump's new tax cut: report MORE’s Virginia campaign and the chairman of Prince William County’s Board of Supervisors. Gillespie was heavily favored to win the Republican nomination heading into Tuesday evening.

Northam was considered the front-runner for the Democratic primary and was initially expected to have no major competition. But Perriello’s bid earlier this year upended the race, with the former congressman catching national attention for his fiery anti-Trump rhetoric.

McAuliffe congratulated Northam in a statement while turning the focus to the general election.

"This election will be a choice between electing Ralph Northam and building on the Democratic successes we've achieved together or electing Republicans who will support Donald Trump's agenda of cutting taxes for the rich at the expense of Virginian's education and health care," McAuliffe said.

Unlike Northam’s long history in state politics, Perriello, who served a brief tenure in Congress from 2008 to 2010, has no state politics experience. High-profile state lawmakers gravitated to Northam, including McAuliffe and Democratic Sens. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDems can use subpoena power to reclaim the mantle of populism Is there a difference between good and bad online election targeting? Collusion judgment looms for key Senate panel MORE and Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineAmerica’s ball cap industry is in trouble Overnight Defense: Trump says 'rogue killers' could be behind missing journalist | Sends Pompeo to meet Saudi king | Saudis may claim Khashoggi killed by accident | Ex-VA chief talks White House 'chaos' | Most F-35s cleared for flight Democrats torch Trump for floating 'rogue killers' to blame for missing journalist MORE.

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But Perriello, who sought to tout a progressive vision for the state, got more support from national Democrats. In addition to Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersHarris presses young people to vote early in Iowa trip Dems lower expectations for 'blue wave' Election Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout MORE (I-Vt.), who campaigned with him, Perriello was endorsed by Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren wants probe into whether former U.S. soldiers worked as assassins for UAE 'Broad City' stars urge Clinton not to run again Big Dem donors stick to sidelines as 2020 approaches MORE (D-Mass.), another progressive stalwart.

While the Democrats largely varied in style and tone, the two candidates still overlapped on many policy positions. Polls leading up to Tuesday found the race to be neck and neck, while Northam ended up outspending Perriello.

The race was largely seen as a proxy war between the Sanders and establishment wings of the Democratic Party. Looking toward the general election, Democrats are hoping to use anti-Trump headwinds to buoy them to victory in one of the first statewide races in the president's administration.

Democrats have an advantage going into the general since Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley: Bolton tells Russians 2016 meddling had little effect | Facebook eyes major cyber firm | Saudi site gets hacked | Softbank in spotlight over Saudi money | YouTube fights EU 'meme ban' proposal Dems lower expectations for 'blue wave' Election Countdown: Takeaways from heated Florida governor's debate | DNC chief pushes back on 'blue wave' talk | Manchin faces progressive backlash | Trump heads to Houston rally | Obama in Las Vegas | Signs of huge midterm turnout MORE carried Virginia in 2016 — and won it by a larger margin than former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden jokes about Obama memes: 'Barack did the first friendship bracelet, not me' Slain Saudi columnist upends 'Davos in the Desert' Sanders, Harris set to criss-cross Iowa MORE.

The historical trends are also on Democrats’ side. The party out of power in the White House has won the Virginia governor’s mansion in every election since 1977, with the exception of McAuliffe’s 2013 win.

For the Republicans, Gillespie was polling ahead of Stewart, 44 percent to 42 percent, around 8 p.m., while state Sen. Frank Wagner was at 14 percent. 

This isn’t Gillespie’s first time running statewide. He ran for Senate in 2014 and unexpectedly came within less than a point of defeating Warner.

The general election is scheduled for Nov. 7.

— Updated: 8:28 p.m.