Former President Obama plans to return to the political spotlight this fall by hitting the campaign trail for Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the Democratic nominee running for Virginia governor.
This will be Obama’s first time campaigning since he left the White House and stumped for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonAttorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty Attorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation Durham seeking indictment of lawyer with ties to Democrats: reports MORE during the 2016 presidential election, Obama and Northam’s offices confirmed to the Huffington Post.
The Virginia governor’s race has been on Democrats’ radar since it’s only one of two statewide races this year. Democrats are hoping backlash for President Trump will mobilize the base and help the party maintain their hold on the governor’s mansion.
Northam easily won a hotly contested Democratic primary to fill the seat of his boss, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who is limited to one term. He defeated former Rep. Tom Perriello, who upended the primary and scored endorsements from progressive icons like Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats urge Biden to commute sentences of 4K people on home confinement Briahna Joy Gray: Push toward major social spending amid pandemic was 'short-lived' Sanders 'disappointed' in House panel's vote on drug prices MORE (I-Vt.).
Perriello, who was elected to Congress in 2008 when Obama was first elected to the White House, was in a tough reelection race in 2010 and the former president had campaigned with him. The Virginia Democrat touted Obama’s past support in campaign ads, but never got an official endorsement during his gubernatorial campaign.
Now, Northam goes on to face GOP nominee Ed Gillespie, who is a former Republican National Committee chairman. Gillespie was expected to glide through the primary but faced an unexpectedly close race against Corey Stewart, a co-chair of Trump’s Virginia campaign.
With special elections to replace Trump's newly appointed Cabinet members in the rearview mirror, Virginia will be the next big prize for both parties. Democrats lost four consecutive special elections this year and the pressure will now be on Virginia to see if they can pull off an early win ahead of the 2018 midterms.
The race is still five months away, but Northam has an early edge in polls, with an 8-point lead. Both Democrats and Republicans in the state note that Gillespie will have an uphill fight in the general election in a state where Clinton won by a larger margin than Obama.
The June primaries were an early indicator of Democrats’ heightened enthusiasm. A total of 542,410 Virginians voted in the Democratic primary, compared to 365,559 votes cast in the GOP primary. And Democrats saw a huge bump in their primary vote totals compared to 2009 — Virginia’s last contested Democratic gubernatorial primary — when fewer than 320,000 voted.
Plus, history is 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.
The general election will be held on Nov. 7.