By James Cullum (Photo/James Cullum)
President Donald Trump’s ears might have been burning Sunday night, as Virginia’s Democratic candidates for governor and lieutenant governor railed against him just prior to the vote at the Alexandria Democratic Committee’s straw poll at the Port City Brewing Company.
Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the Democratic frontrunner in this year’s gubernatorial race, called Trump “a narcissistic maniac.”
“He’s been terrible for the country and he’s been terrible for Virginia,” he said. “We will not tolerate the bigotry and hatred that he ran on and continues to exhibit.”
Northam won the straw poll with 136 votes or 64 percent of ballots cast, compared to 76 votes or 36 percent for rival former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello (D-5).
In the straw poll for lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, a former U.S. attorney for the Easter District of Virginia, won 135 votes or 62 percent, beating out former federal prosecutor Gene Rossie, who received 52 votes or 24 percent, and Susan Platt, who served as chief of staff to then-U.S. Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), with 32 votes or 14 percent.
Perriello, who now lives in Old Town and surprised many when he announced his candidacy in January, calls his campaign a “firewall against hate.”
He won his only term in Congress in 2008 by a margin of 727 votes in a district Republicans held for 12 years.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to redefine the political landscape in Virginia,” Perriello said. “We will be a firewall against these acts [Trump] takes that go against the Constitution.”
Northam presented himself as part of a winning team with Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who is seeking reelection and as the heir apparent to Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who is limited to one term and cannot seek re-election until 2021.
“Terry, Mark and I brought 187,000 new jobs to the commonwealth and $14.5 billion in capital investment, so don’t tell me good things don’t happen when you elect Democrats,” he said.
The November general election will be the first statewide election — along with New Jersey — in the Trump era, in a state that Hillary Clinton won by 5 percentage points in the 2016 presidential election.
Northam pointed to Trump’s ambitions to end federal sequestration, proposed budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency that would impact the Chesapeake Bay cleanup and an executive order banning federal funding for organizations that conduct abortions overseas, commonly referred to as the “global gag rule.”
“He wants to get rid of sequestration. That’s great for Virginia, but I can’t wait to see how he’s going to pay for that,” Northam said. “There are a lot of voters here in Northern Virginia.”
Perriello, who complimented McAuliffe as a good manager who brought private industry to Virginia, is opposed to drilling off Virginia’s coast and Dominion Virginia Power’s $8.6 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline proposals.
“The most bipartisan thing in Richmond right now is taking money from Dominion Power,” he said. “A lot of people feel the system has been rigged by the special interests, and they don’t fit neatly on the right or left of the political spectrum.”
He also criticized partisan redistricting of the state legislature by Republicans that took place in 2011. The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month ordered a lower court to re-examine the effort for signs of racial bias and districts that dilute the impact of black voters.
Local Democrat Boyd Walker said he supports Perriello.
“He won’t take money from Dominion [Virginia] Power,” Walker said. “And that he hired Bernie Sanders staffer [Julia Barnes] as his campaign director is all OK with me.”
President Trump has a 38 percent approval rating in Virginia, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll. Last month, the Democratic Party of Virginia announced it has recruited 45 challengers to run against incumbent Republicans across the state, including 17 Republican-held districts carried by Clinton last year.
Fairfax, who lost to Herring when he ran for attorney general in 2013, said his proudest day as an attorney was protesting Trump’s embattled travel ban at Dulles International Airport in February.
“He has proven he can’t be trusted with this office,” Fairfax said of Trump. “I believe we are going to see one of the greatest stories ever written, and it’s called ‘The Resistance.’ Donald Trump has no idea what he kicked off.”
Rossi, who spent 27 years as a federal prosecutor, decried Trump’s actions in his first two months in office and defended the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans vow to repeal, with stories of his youngest daughter beating cancer and his own battle with the rare disease Amyloidosis.
“I beat it in 2013, and they literally gave me a new blood supply,” Rossi said. “Now, the Democratic Party is always looking for new blood. I have the newest blood of any candidate in American political history.”
Platt said if elected she would fight for women’s reproductive rights. She called Trump a “snake oil salesman” and vowed to fight him from Richmond.
“I am in for this fight,” Platt said. “I am experienced and I will not back down to Donald Trump.”
The June 9 primary is less than three months away, and former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, who narrowly lost against incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D) in 2014, leads the Republican pack at 33 percent of likely voters against State Sen. Frank Wagner (R-7) with 9 percent and Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart with 7 percent, according to a Christopher Newport University poll last month. The same poll found Northam leading Perriello 26 percent to 15 percent, with 59 percent of voters undecided.
ADC chairman Clarence Tong said the party started the straw poll four years ago.
“It’s a direct reflection of what’s happening on the national level since the election. I have never seen support like this,” he said. “Turnout tonight was huge.”
This year’s straw poll saw the second-largest turnout behind 2014, when 10 candidates vied for the 8th Congressional District seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D). Former Lt. Gov. Don Beyer won the election, but finished third in the straw poll behind State Sen. Adam Ebbin and former Mayor Bill Euille.
Bill Butcher, owner of Port City Brewing Company, said that all the Trump-bashing doesn’t make him nervous.
“I like people to know that our democracy was born in the beer halls of Boston, Philadelphia and Alexandria, and we’re proud to carry on that tradition here,” he said. “I think that, ultimately, democracy will prevail. The president is one person and there is only a certain amount he can do in a system with processes that are set up to slow him down.”
Resident Laura Mandala said she supports Northam, and believes he’d be more diplomatic than his stump speech makes him out to be.
“What people say in a primary is usually different than what they will say in elected office,” she said. “Is Ralph Northam going to speak out against the president when he’s elected governor? I don’t think so. I think he’ll be a respectful collaborator.”