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WASHINGTON - Democrat Ralph Northam won a bitter race for Virginia governor on Tuesday, beating a Republican who embraced some of US President Donald Trump's combative tactics and issues in a potential preview of next year's midterm election battles.
Northam, the state's lieutenant governor, overcame a barrage of attack ads by Republican Ed Gillespie that hit the soft-spoken Democrat on divisive issues such as immigration, gang crime and Confederate statues.
The Northam victory in a state that Democrat Hillary Clinton won by 5 percentage points in the 2016 presidential election was a boost for national Democrats who were desperate to turn grassroots enthusiasm to resist Trump into election victories.
Democrats had already lost four special congressional elections earlier this year.
In a sign of the high stakes, Trump took a break from his Asia visit to send tweets and record messages on behalf of Gillespie, a former chairman of the national party. Trump had endorsed Gillespie but not campaigned with him.
The Virginia race highlighted a slate of state and local elections that also included a governor's race in New Jersey, where Democrat Phil Murphy, a former investment banker and ambassador to Germany, defeated Republican Kim Guadagno for the right to succeed Republican Chris Christie.
Murphy had promised to be a check on Trump in Democratic-leaning New Jersey, and Guadagno, the lieutenant governor, was hampered by her association with the unpopular Christie.
In Virginia, Democrats had worried that if Gillespie won, Republicans would see it as a green light to emphasize cultural issues in their campaigns for next year's elections, when all 435 seats in the US House of Representatives and 33 of the US Senate's 100 seats come up for election. Republicans now control both chambers.
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