Big names in both major political parties are flocking to Virginia as the state’s closely watched race for governor enters its final days.
Virginia is the only competitive governor’s race in the country, and the contest between Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam could be an early referendum on President Donald Trump’s political popularity ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California spent the weekend at get-out-the-vote rallies and black churches trying to rally Democrats around the statewide ticket.
“Virginia has the fate of our country in its hands,” Harris, a rising Democratic Party star widely mentioned as a potential national candidate, said at rally Sunday at a Richmond cidery.
Gillespie has an event scheduled Sunday evening with U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and a Monday event with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. Gillespie campaigned last week with New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.
Gillespie, a White House adviser to President George W. Bush and former lobbyist, has run on lower taxes, tougher policies toward immigrants who are in the state illegally and preserving the state’s Confederate statues.
Northam is a pediatric neurologist who has pledged to continue many of the policies of current term-limited Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Northam has promised increased spending in public education, tighter gun rules and strong support for abortion rights.
Both mild-mannered candidates will be looking for a high-profile surrogate to help boost turnout in an off-year election, when voter interest typically dips. Gillespie, who is viewed skeptically by some Trump supporters, has campaigned with Vice President Mike Pence but has not said whether he plans to invite the president to campaign with him.
For Northam, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring and lieutenant governor candidate Justin Fairfax, a key focus in big-name visits has been on boosting African-American turnout. President Barack Obama rallied with the ticket earlier this month, and Holder, the country’s first black African-American attorney general, invoked civil rights icons to motivate Virginians to vote when he spoke Sunday.
“Too many people sacrificed too much to give everybody the right to vote,” Holder said.
Holder is chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which seeks to elect Democrats in statewide elections ahead of the next redistricting and has invested heavily in Northam’s campaign.
The next Virginia governor, to be elected on Nov. 7, also will have a major say in the state’s next congressional redistricting. Gillespie helped quarterback a Republican wave in statehouse elections around the country in 2010 — just before the last redistricting — that has helped the GOP maintain a firm grip on the U.S. House.
In Virginia, Democrats often complain of unfairly drawn districts in the last round, pointing out that Democrats hold every statewide office but Republicans have a majority in both state chambers and in congressional seats.
Amber Caldwell, a Chester resident who showed up to hear Holder and Harris speak Sunday, said she’s been particularly motivated to support Northam because of the importance of redistricting.
“It determines everything,” she said.