Meet the Candidates

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On Tuesday, May 9th Progress Virginia will host “Debate for the State” between Democratic gubernatorial candidates Ralph Northam and Tom Perriello. In anticipation of this event, we’re taking the time to introduce you to these two wonderful candidates and provide some background on the men you will hear more from tomorrow night.


Ralph Northam is a native Virginian, born and raised on the Eastern Shore. In high school, Northam was a well-known basketball player, voted “most likely to succeed” by his class. It’s been reported that Northam was the first person to dunk a basketball on Tangier Island–something you’re certain to hear about if you pass through his home town. Ralph Northam attended  Virginia Military Institute and went on to serve as a United States Army physician from 1984 to 1992.

He left the Army as a Major and began practicing Pediatric Neurology at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, where he still practices today. Northam is often quoted in saying that his patients and their families are what keep him grounded in his day to day; whenever he gets stressed he remembers their fights and puts life back into perspective.  

Ralph Northam was elected to the Virginia State Senate in 2007. He is most widely remembered for his crusade against a 2012 law, proposed by the state Republicans, requiring women to receive an ultrasound before having an abortion. Northam shaped the Democratic political defense to this bill by explaining that the necessary ultrasound would be “transvaginal” and incredibly invasive to women.

In 2013, he was elected Lt. Governor. In office  he has continued to champion progressive causes in Virginia, frequently serving as a crucial “tie-breaker” in the Senate. In 2015, Ralph Northam cast the tie-breaking vote to pass the bill that prohibits state agencies from discriminating against any potential employee based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Just this year, Northam cast the tie-breaking vote to stop a law that would allow some people to conceal carry without a permit in Virginia.

In Progress Virginia’s Progressive Voters Guide, Ralph Northam listed his top three priorities as Governor to be: bringing good well-paying jobs to the commonwealth, expanding access to affordable and quality healthcare, and ensuring Virginia’s children access to a world-class education system in safe communities. You can read his direct answers here!


Tom Perriello is also a native Virginian, born and raised in Ivy just west of Charlottesville. In his youth, Perriello rose to the rank of Eagle Scoutindicating his commitment to public service began at a very young age. Perriello received his bachelor’s and law degrees from Yale.

After graduation, Perriello helped found two nonprofit organizations, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Avaaz. Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, or CACG, is a social justice group fighting to promote Catholic values in American politics. Avaaz promotes political advocacy for human rights and democracy around the globe.

In 2008, Tom Perriello won a nearly impossible race for Congress in Virginia’s 5th district, unseating incumbent Congressman Virgil Goode by 727 votes. Once in Washington, Perriello quickly caught the eye of President Obama for his commitment to progressive issues including his unwavering support for the Affordable Care Act and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. He was named to Time’s 40 under 40 in his re-election year, where the publication described him as a “rising star in the party.”

He is often quoted saying, “politics done right is an extension of community service,” words that are given life by his own political record. In 2010, President Obama made a personal appearance in Charlottesville the Friday before election night. Sadly, despite a strong and principled fight, Perriello was voted out of office in the Tea Party wave of that year. But that wasn’t the end of his political work. In 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry tapped Tom to run the State Department’s internal department-wide review process. Later that year, President Obama appointed him to replace former U.S. Senator Russell Feingold as special envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

In Progress Virginia’s Progressive Voters Guide, Tom Perriello listed his top three priorities as Governor to be: addressing the gerrymandering of the Virginia legislative map, protecting Virginians from hateful policies in D.C. as well as radical laws from Richmond, and promoting economic opportunity by raising the minimum wage to $15/hour and fighting for paid family leave. You can read his direct answers here!

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