Virginia governor candidates

Democrat Ralph Northam, left, and Republican Ed Gillespie are locked in a tight race for governor.

Voters in the Fredericksburg region will have a host of statewide and local candidates to choose from in Tuesday’s highly anticipated election.

The race for governor between Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie is the main attraction, with many labeling it a referendum on Republican President Donald Trump’s first year in office. It has devolved into a nasty campaign featuring attack ads tying Northam to MS-13 gangs and a child molester and Gillespie to the Enron scandal and white supremacists.

University of Mary Washington political science professor Stephen Farnsworth said the gubernatorial contest will go down in history as a “race to the bottom.”

“Nasty attack ads give way to even more nasty attack ads,” he said. “That’s more or less what you have to say to get through the din of politics these days.”

Farnsworth said he thinks the turnout will be comparable to the last gubernatorial election in 2013, when 43 percent of registered voters showed up to the polls. In the other statewide races, Democrat Justin Fairfax is up against Republican Jill Vogel to succeed Northam as lieutenant governor, and Republican John Adams faces Democratic incumbent Mark Herring for attorney general.

Fredericksburg-area ballots also will include candidates for School Board, Board of Supervisors, the House of Delegates and some constitutional offices. Virginians can view sample ballots by going to elections.virginia.gov/casting-a-ballot and typing their addresses under “what’s on my ballot?”

Absentee voting is already up from 2013 in GOP-dominated Spotsylvania and Stafford counties and in Fredericksburg, where Democratic candidates hold an advantage.

“There’s clearly an energized element of the electorate that has real strong feelings one way or the other about Donald Trump, and those people are likely to turn out,” Farnsworth said.

Spotsylvania had recorded 2,986 absentee ballots as of early Friday, up from 1,951 fours years ago. About 1,760 Stafford residents had voted absentee, nearly 300 more than the total in 2013. And 428 Fredericksburg residents had voted early, up nearly 100 from the last gubernatorial election.

Highlighting local races is the 28th District contest between Democrat Joshua Cole and Republican Bob Thomas to determine House Speaker Bill Howell’s successor. And longtime Republican Del. Mark Cole of Spotsylvania faces a trio of challengers in Democrat Steve Aycock, Green Party member Gerald Anderson and independent Amanda Blalock.

The 28th District includes parts of Stafford and Fredericksburg, while slices of Fredericksburg and Stafford, Spotsylvania and Fauquier counties make up the 88th District.

“Both districts were drawn to elect Republicans, and Republicans continue to have the advantage,” Farnsworth said.

But Democrat Jennifer Carroll Foy appears to hold an edge over Republican Mike Makee in the 2nd District, which includes parts of Prince William and Stafford counties. Makee replaced the original GOP nominee, who dropped out of the race in the wake of reports that he falsely claimed to have a master’s degree.

“Democrats can be very competitive in the 2nd,” Farnsworth said. “In an open seat contest, having to change horses in midstream puts you at a real disadvantage.”

Republican Del. Mark Dudenhefer, who narrowly regained the 2nd District seat in 2015 after losing it to a Democrat two years prior, is not running for re-election. He opted instead to challenge incumbent Laura Sellers for a seat on the Stafford Board of Supervisors.

That race is one of four Stafford supervisor and two School Board seats being contested Tuesday. Spotsylvania has five contested county seats: three for supervisor, including a four-candidate race in the Berkeley District, and two for School Board.

Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402 jbranscome@freelancestar.com