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US State and Local Elections Could be Early Test of Trump’s Political Influence

A woman holds her son as she fills out her ballot at a polling place Nov. 7, 2017, in Alexandria, Va.

Voters in the U.S. state of Virginia will elect a new governor Tuesday, one of a number of state and local elections that could provide an early indication of how the electorate views President Donald Trump and the Republican Party.

Most polls show a tight race between Republican Ed Gillespie and Democratic Lt. Governor Ralph Northam in Virginia, a swing state.

Elsewhere, New Jersey's unpopular Republican governor, Chris Christie, will be succeeded by Republican Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno or Democrat Phil Murphy, who holds wide leads over Guadagno in most polls.

Tuesday's balloting is important as the Republican and Democratic parties try to gain momentum before next year's mid-term elections. Democrats hope their candidates will be victorious after not winning any special congressional elections against Republican opponents this year. Republicans are hoping wins will help soothe intra-party bickering between Trump and key congressional Republicans.

Trump has enthusiastically endorsed Gillespie, although the candidate has kept the president at a distance. Trump is the first president since Richard Nixon, who served from 1969 to 1974, not to campaign in Virginia’s governor’s race.

Trump, who is on a 12-day five nation trip to Asia, vouched for Gillespie in a series of tweets Tuesday. He started with attacks on Gillespie’s opponent and said Gillespie would neutralize MS-13, an international crime gang.

An electronic voting machine is seen at a polling station in Fairfax, Virginia, Nov. 7, 2017. (Photo: Diaa Bekheet)
An electronic voting machine is seen at a polling station in Fairfax, Virginia, Nov. 7, 2017. (Photo: Diaa Bekheet)

"Ralph Northam will allow crime to be rampant in Virginia. He’s weak on crime, weak on our GREAT VETS, Anti-Second Amendment...."

Virginia’s bitterly fought governor’s race has been more racially charged than past contests in recent memory. Gillespie has tried to endear himself to Trump’s supporters with political advertisements on immigration and Confederate statues.

Northam has attempted to link Gillespie with the white supremacists who rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia this summer in support of Confederate monuments.

In New Jersey, Murphy, who served as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Germany, has vowed to limit Trump’s influence in the state. Murphy has touted a liberal agenda that includes raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, increasing taxes on millionaires, boosting funding schools and legalizing marijuana.

Guadagno has tried to distance herself from Trump and Christie, a challenging task since she served as Christie’s top deputy for eight years. Guadagno has campaigned on cutting the state’s property taxes and ending “sanctuary cities,” which limit cooperation with the federal government to enforce immigration laws.

In local races, polls suggest Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York and Marty Walsh in Boston will easily win re-election. Mayors will also be chosen in Atlanta, Georgia, Charlotte, North Carolina, Detroit, Michigan and Seattle, Washington.

In Utah, Republican John Curtis, a fervent Trump supporter, is expected to win the congressional seat vacated by John Chaffetz.