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New Jersey, Virginia picking new governors in test for Trump

November 7, 2017
Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Voters in New Jersey and Virginia cast ballots Tuesday for new governors in contests that were widely seen as a referendum on President Donald Trump's first year in office.

The stakes were high as both parties sought momentum ahead of next year's midterm elections. In Virginia — the only Southern state Trump lost last year, Republican Ed Gillespie is in a tight race with Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam. In New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy faces Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.

While local politics and issues weighed heavy on voters' minds, some also were driven by lingering resentment from Hillary Clinton's loss or still excited by Trump's win.

John Holpp, 88, said he voted for Murphy because he's "hoping to get rid of" Gov. Chris Christie, who is term-limited. Guadagno, who wants to lower property taxes and end so-called sanctuary cities, has tried to distance herself from Trump and Christie, but it's been challenging since she served as his top deputy for eight years.

"If I could get rid of Trump I would be even happier. I've never seen our state so miserable and I've never seen our country so miserable," Holpp said.

Edward McKellar, 36, saw things much differently in rural Windsor, Virginia. He said the improving economy drove him to vote a straight Republican ticket.

"I like the direction our country is going right now," said McKellar, an operations manager for an industrial company. "The economy is good. It's as strong as it's ever been. The work is out there. Savings and investments are good."

Gillespie and Northam differ on taxes, guns, abortion and other issues. Gillespie supports a cut in the state's income tax rate, less gun control and more restrictions on abortions. Northam said he wants a tax overhaul that targets low-income Virginians, supports greater gun restrictions and abortion rights.

Nationally, Democrats haven't won any special elections for Congress this year and the next Virginia governor will have a major say in the state's next round of redistricting, when Congressional lines are drawn. Republicans are looking for a boost as their party is beset by intraparty turmoil between Trump and key Republicans in Congress.

Virginia's race has been an often ugly slugfest that political observers say has been more racially charged than past contests in recent memory. Outside groups on both sides have spent millions to influence the outcome and called on high-profile surrogates, including former President Barack Obama and Vice President Mike Pence.

At Jahnke Road Baptist Church in suburban Richmond, Virginia, Angelica Bega, 39, said she was uncertain whom she would vote for Tuesday until she was handed a ballot, but she ultimately voted for Northam.

"I'm an issues-driven voter and it was very frustrating to see the attack ads and the emotional appeals that dominated the campaign," she said.

One tipping point was immigration. "I don't think immigration is a big deal for many Virginians, but I think that Gillespie is trying to make it an issue."

Emogene and Jimmy Babb, both 74, voted straight Republican at a polling station in Windsor, Virginia. There wasn't any one particular issue that drove them to the polls but said they shared Gillespie's positions on gun rights and not removing Confederate statues.

"Statues should stay where they are," said Emogene Babb, a retired office service specialist at a local health department. "They are part of our history. We need to accept life as it was. Our forefathers fought for them."

Gillespie has kept Trump at a distance but tried to excite the president's supporters with sharp-elbowed ads on immigration and Confederate statues. The former Republican National Committee and Washington lobbyist has been criticized by Democrats and some conservatives as running a race-baiting campaign.

Northam, an Army veteran and pediatric neurologist, has lumped Gillespie in with the white supremacists who rallied in Charlottesville this summer in support of Confederate monuments.

 
 
 

 

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