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Bruising Virginia governor election tests Trump's political clout

Bruising Virginia governor election tests Trump's political clout
From Reuters - November 7, 2017

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trumps political clout was tested on Tuesday in an election for governor in Virginia, where a fellow Republican who has embraced Trumps combative campaign style faced off in a close contest with a Democratic front-runner.

The Virginia race - one of a series of U.S. state and local elections - could offer a preview of the battles in next years midterm congressional contests, which will determine which party controls the House of Representatives and the Senate.

In a sign of the stakes in Virginias election, Trump took a break from his lengthy Asia visit to send tweets supporting Republican Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the national party, and bashing Democrat Ralph Northam, currently the Southern states lieutenant governor.

Trump has endorsed Gillespie, but has not stumped for him, while Vice President Mike Pence has joined the Washington lobbyist on the campaign trail. The Democrats have also brought out big names, with former President Barack Obama recently campaigning for Northam and the partys 2016 presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, endorsing him via Twitter.

Gillespie kept his distance from the president but emulated Trumps style, using hard-edged ads to hit Northam on many of the contentious issues - namely immigration, gang crime, guns and Confederate statues.

The most recent statewide opinion polls give Northam a slight edge over Gillespie, but the ads put the Democrat on the defensive and narrowed his lead in recent weeks.

Elsewhere, New Jersey voters were picking a new governor to succeed Republican Chris Christie. Several big cities were selecting mayors, and conservative Utah was holding a special election to replace Republican U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz, who stepped down before his term ended.

Virginia polls were due to close at 7 p.m. EST (midnight GMT).

Northam and Gillespie were vying to replace popular Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat who could not seek re-election under state law. McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, staunchly supported Clinton last year and helped her win Virginia by 5 percentage points.

Democrats were worried about the risk of an upset win by Gillespie, which would mark the latest in a series of setbacks.

If Gillespie wins, Republicans might take cues from his emphasis on cultural issues in their campaigns for next years midterm elections, when all 435 seats in the House and 33 of the Senates 100 seats come up for election. Republicans now control both chambers.

Despite liberal fury at Trump that has stirred grassroots activism, Democrats have lost four congressional special elections this year.

Voters in Arlington County - a Democratic stronghold bordering Washington, D.C. - connected the election to national politics.

Trump talks about draining the swamp, but Gillespie kind of is the swamp, said Nick Peacemaker, who works in marketing and considered himself a Republican until Trump won the partys presidential nomination.

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