Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam and former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie faced off tonight for their final debate in the open race for Virginia governor. Incumbent Governor Terry McAuliffe is term-limited.
Virginia’s gubernatorial elections have often attracted national attention, perhaps because of its close proximity to the nation’s capital. Adding to the high stakes this year is the fact that the incoming governor will preside over the congressional redistricting that takes place every 10 years after the completion of the U.S. census.
The latest poll puts Northam seven points ahead of Gillespie, and most political outlets give Democrats a slim lead in the race. In the final debate of the election, the candidates focused on issues affecting Southwestern Virginia, where the debate took place.
The two repeatedly traded barbs about their current positions, with Gillespie attacking policy decisions that took place during Northam’s tenure, and Northam making several slurs about the time his opponent spent working as a lobbyist.
“The only time you have shown up is when you get paid,” Northam said to Gillespie before being asked to stay on point by the moderator, one of several times the moderator admonished the candidates over the course of the debate. Gillespie retorted that he owns a small business in Virginia and had left the lobby firm to which Northam referred over a decade ago.
For his part, Gillespie pointed out during his opening statement that Virginia “hit the bottom 10 states in economic growth” under Governor McAuliffe and Lt. Governor Northam.
On the topic of the challenges facing public schools in rural areas, both candidates agreed that the economic downturn was to blame for the lack of funding and that measures should be taken to attract and fairly compensate teachers.
Northam pointed to the planned expansion of the University of Virginia Wise, which he said would bring economic opportunity to the area in the form of research and grants; Gillespie attacked his opponent’s desire to “impose an Obama-style clean power plan on Virginia,” which he said would further weaken the economy in the rural areas that are depending on coal mining.
Northam responded that while steam coal demand was down, metallurgical coal demand was up, and that coal mining could be revitalized regardless of the clean power plan.
After a question about the recent gerrymandering case put before the Supreme Court and the state’s upcoming redistricting in 2021, Northam called his opponent “the architect of gerrymandering in this country,” adding that, as governor, he would “not sign a map unless it’s fairly drawn.”
Gillespie said he was “open to the concept of nonpartisan redistricting,” but that he questioned whether the results were truly any different than they would be under the current system. He added that he had not seen any instances of successful nonpartisan redistricting except for in Iowa, which he said was a poor example, because it is rectangular and therefore easy to draw district lines.
Both candidates also signaled their support for expanding broadband into rural areas and for increased access to long-acting contraceptives.