RICHMOND, Va. – After a surprisingly close race, Ed Gillespie clinched the Republican nomination for governor, reports the Associated Press. With over 99% of the precincts reporting, Gillespie was projected to win with over a percentage point.
Gillespie's close race with Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chair Corey Stewart came as a major surprise. Observers initially expected it to be an easy win for Gillespie, who polled in a double-digit lead. Frank Wagner, a senator in the commonwealth's legislature, trailed in third place.
Gillespie, a political strategist and former chair of the Republican National Committee, emerged the winner with just over a percentage point. The state pays for a recount if candidates are under .5 percent.
Stewart offered a speech after Gillespie's lead climbed. It was not a concession speech, but one meant to thank supporters and rouse his base (watch below). He said the election was "too close to call."
Gillespie is deeply connected in both national and Virginia politics and has spent his career working for high-profile Republicans including presidential candidate John Kasich, former President George W. Bush and former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. In April, Gillespie received a $25,000 donation to his campaign from Bush.
He served as counselor to Bush during Bush’s second term of office, co-founded a bipartisan lobbying firm and in 2014 narrowly lost a bid for Virginia’s U.S. Senate seat to Democratic incumbent Mark Warner.
Gillespie vows to pursue “timeless conservative principles,” including a 10 percent cut in state income tax rates.
Jill H. Vogel received the Republican nomination for Lieutenant Governor. It was also a close victory for Vogel, who beat her closest opponent by just over two percent.
A fierce fight
Stewart's surprise performance came after a campaign during which he engendered significant controversy.
Last October, he appeared on a show hosted by Mike Cernovich, a member of the pro-Trump, far-right media who has dismissed the existence of date rape. Two months ago, Stewart participated in an "ask me anything" session on Reddit's largest pro-Trump forum, where, among other things, he called Gillespie a "cuckservative." He had previously served as the Trump campaign chair for Virginia before being fired from the unpaid position.
Gillespie campaigned off the goodwill he established with Republicans after his narrow loss to Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in 2014. Gillespie worked to tiptoe around the presence of Trump, embracing policies that are popular with Republicans without directly tying his campaign to the President.
Gillespie basically ignored his competition, including the flame-throwing Stewart, and the strategy seemed to work. Most polls showed Gillespie with a double-digit lead before Election Day.
A third candidate, Wagner, struggled to gain traction, despite winning the endorsement of The Washington Post's editorial board.
For Democrats, the race had been framed as a reboot of the Bernie Sanders-Hillary Clinton contest.
Some viewed the close battle as a pitting of the Sanders wing of the party, as channeled by Perriello, against the Clinton wing of the party, represented by Northam.
But the comparison was never a perfect fit. Northam had pushed his campaign further to the left and has described Trump as a narcissistic maniac -- while Perriello instead attempted to reach out to Trump voters by selling a message of economic populism framed through a progressive perspective.
Both the Democratic and Republican contests featured established candidates with lengthy political careers facing off against insurgent, populist candidates hoping to upset the power bases of their respective parties.
Democratic turnout was much higher than Republican turnout, and less divided.
Corey Stewart speech.