Democrat Ralph Northam elected as Virginia Governor, beating off Republican challenge

Democrat Ralph Northam elected as Virginia Governor, beating off Republican challenge

Democrat Ralph Northam elected as Virginia Governor, beating off Republican challenge

Updated 8 November 2017, 14:40 AEDT

Ralph Northam is elected as Virginia's next governor handing his party a sorely-needed victory and beating back a challenge from a Republican opponent who embraced Donald Trump's combative campaign style.

Democrat Ralph Northam has been elected as Virginia's next governor, handing his party a sorely-needed victory and beating back a challenge from a Republican opponent who embraced Donald Trump's combative campaign style.

Virginia's hard-fought race was closely watched as a swing-state test of Mr Trump's popularity.

Mr Northam, the state's lieutenant governor and a paediatric neurologist, had seen his lead in the opinion polls diminish late in the race in the face of hard-edged ads by Republican Ed Gillespie on divisive issues such as illegal immigration, gang crime and preserving Confederate statues.

Mr Northam repeatedly tried to tie Mr Gillespie to the President during months of divisive campaigning and his victory was in large part due to a surge in anti-Trump sentiment since the President took office.

Democrats said they had record levels of enthusiasm heading into the race.

Mr Gillespie, who received Mr Trump's endorsement, kept the President at a distance throughout the campaign but also tried to rally his supporters with his hard-edge ads.

But shortly after Mr Northam's victory was announced, Mr Trump tweeted that Mr Gillespie "did not embrace me or what I stand for".

This is despite a string of tweets, some sent just yesterday, in which Mr Trump strongly backed the Republican candidate.

Democrats also take New Jersey

Meanwhile, in New Jersey Democrat Phil Murphy was elected governor, sweeping to victory in the race to succeed unpopular Republican Governor Chris Christie on a liberal agenda that included a $15 minimum wage and increased school funding.

Mr Murphy, a former investment banker and ambassador to Germany, beat Republican Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, who was hampered by her association with Mr Christie and lagged in fundraising.

A one-time presidential candidate, Mr Christie has hit record-low approval ratings as he closes out his eight-year tenure in the Democratic-leaning state.

Voters head to the polls across the US

The bitterly fought races in Virginia and New Jersey are leading a slate of state and local elections that experts say are an early test of Mr Trump's political influence and possible strategies for both parties in next year's midterm elections.

Democratic Mayors Bill de Blasio in New York and Marty Walsh in Boston are expected to cruise to re-election, while Detroit, Atlanta, Charlotte, North Carolina and Seattle also will pick mayors.

In Utah, Republican John Curtis, a strong Trump supporter, is a heavy favourite to fill the congressional seat left vacant by Chaffetz.

Reuters/AP/ABC