Northam, Gillespie, and the Future of Progressivism in Virginia

Joe Biden and Ralph Northam speak at a roundtable on workforce development. // Credit: The Washington Post

With just one month left until election day, the attention on Virginia’s gubernatorial race has reached its peak. It is now crunch time for the two candidates, and a recent poll puts Democrat Ralph Northam slightly leading Republican Ed Gillespie. Despite this edge, Democrats are still exercising caution as the election nears. With the future of Virginia on the line, it is essential that the progress made by incumbent Governor Terry McAuliffe continues under a new leader whose values align with those of progressivism.


Virginia’s gubernatorial race is clearly one of the more important elections on the docket for next month. Even President Trump took to Twitter to express his support for Gillespie saying that rival Northam “is fighting for the violent MS-13 killer gangs & sanctuary cities.” Though some might see Trump’s endorsement as a bonus, others might see it as a disadvantage to Gillespie, especially considering Trump lost Virginia, an important swing state, by more than 5% in the presidential election last year.


Northam’s background as a pediatric neurosurgeon and a U.S. Army veteran gives him special insight on issues like healthcare and veteran’s rights. While both candidates have emphasized the importance of providing better, more affordable healthcare coverage to Virginians, they have disagreed on how to handle policy concerning women’s reproductive health. Northam has been an outspoken advocate for a woman’s right to receive a safe and legal abortion, but Gillespie has stated that he would like to see “abortion be banned.” When it comes to addiction, however, Gillespie breaks from traditional conservative standpoints and believes that medical intervention is more effective than incarceration when managing the growing problem of substance abuse in Virginia. This is one of the few points of overlap in the two candidates’ policy plans along with their aim of reducing taxation whether that’s lowering taxes in general (Gillespie) or just eliminating certain ones like the grocery tax (Northam).


The recent events in Charlottesville revealed another difference in the candidates’ platforms. When Northam made a statement supporting the decision of Charlottesville City Council to remove the Robert E. Lee statue at the center of the rally, he faced backlash from conservatives who accused him of “turn[ing] his back on his heritage.” Meanwhile, Gillespie made it clear that the monuments should remain because “our history is our history.


This election will play an important role in shaping Virginian politics for years to come, and securing a win for Democrats in this heavily divided state is crucial considering the state’s high number of conservative-leaning voters. Under Governor McAuliffe, Virginia made significant strides towards progress by enacting policies to help women and minorities in small businesses, expand environmental protections, and prevent gun violence among other items, and a win for Northam would allow this important progress to continue.

Chau Le