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Endorsements Change Landscape In Democratic Race For LG Nomination

Woman speaking
FILE: Del. Hala Ayala, a candidate for Virginia lieutenant governor. (Photo: Craig Carper/VPM News)

Governor Ralph Northam, House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and House Majority Leader Charniele Herring made the biggest endorsement yet in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor today. They announced their support for Del. Hala Ayala (D-Prince William County), shaking up the race just days after early voting started.

At a press conference today, Northam lauded the 2017 “ Blue Wave,” which gave Democrats control of both legislative bodies and the governorship for the first time in 26 years. Ayala was first elected in that year.

“They listen to Virginians, and then they come back to Richmond and then they take action,” Northam said of the new lawmakers. He highlighted a series of legislative wins for Democrats since 2017, including new gun control measures and expansion of Medicaid.

Lawyer, activist and Democratic primary candidate Sean Perryman took issue with the endorsements. In a release, he drew a connection between them and the Byrd political machine that entrenched Democratic power for decades in early 1900s Virginia.

Perryman told VPM he believes “this is still a wide open race for LG by all accounts.” He said his campaign is focused on creating grassroots support through community engagement - doing things like knocking on doors and canvassing, and talking about issues that are important to people like the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The people have to decide whether they want people who are responsive to this moment,” Perryman said.

The new endorsements promise to make some waves in the field.

Del. Sam Rasoul (Roanoke) had quietly positioned himself as the closest thing to a frontrunner as of last week. In the April 22 Wason Center poll, which connected with voters who say they’ll participate in the Democratic primary, 12% of those polled said they’d vote for Rasoul.

In comparison, Ayala, Del. Mark Levine (D-Alexandria), Norfolk councilwoman Andria McClellan and businessman Xavier Warren each received support from 2% of voters, with lawyer and activist Sean Perryman pulling 1%. While 4% of voters said they’d vote for Del. Elizabeth Guzman (D-Prince William), she dropped out of the race this month.

Rasoul is also best off cash-wise, as the only candidate who has raised over $1 million. But the Wason Center poll showed well over half of Democratic voters remain undecided.

Primary election day is June 8, but early in-person voting is available at registrar’s offices now, and absentee ballots can be requested until May 28. Republican voters will not choose their nominee at the polls, but through delegates in a decentralized convention.

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host. He began his career as a VPM News intern in 2019 and has covered pipelines, urban heat islands, the electric grid and more. You can find him biking in Bryan Park, petting neighborhood cats or listening to live music.