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Virginia’s Democratic Primary Is Suddenly Close-ish

The first 2017 campaign finance reports for the Virginia governor’s race are in, and as of March 31, Tom Perriello (whom I profiled last month) had brought in $2.2 million, more than his primary opponent, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who raised nearly $1.5 million. Northam, however, was barred from fundraising during the legislative session, which ended in late February, and has more cash on hand: $3.3 million to Perriello’s $1.7 million. The leading Republican contender, Ed Gillespie raised $1.8 million. (Cash-on-hand figures for Gillespie weren’t immediately available.)

Recent polling in the race shows Democrats in the lead overall; a Quinnipiac poll of the race out this week showed both Perriello and Northam leading Gillespie by double-digit margins in head-to-head matchups. While Gillespie is the presumed Republican candidate, things are still tight in the Democratic primary, though the Quinnipiac poll showed Perriello leading Northam 25 percent to 20 percent. Fifty-one percent of the primary electorate was still undecided and name recognition for all candidates is generally low. “The heavy front-runner in each primary is ‘undecided,’” Peter A. Brown of Quinnipiac said in a press release.

Northam, who is seen as the establishment candidate, has secured the endorsements of most of the state’s Democratic power players, including the governor and both senators. Perriello, a former congressman and State Department official, hasn’t been in Virginia politics in years, and his January announcement that he would run was seen as a surprise. What might be helping Perriello raise his profile is a recent endorsement from Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders, who campaigned with Perriello at an event at George Mason University on April 6. Perriello has tried to position himself as the Sanders-esque option in the race, and turning out younger voters could be key to a primary victory for him. While many progressive groups might well stay on the sidelines in the primary race, at least one environmental leader told me last month that he had his eye on these fundraising numbers as a way to judge the viability of the Perriello campaign. “Getting involved in the campaign late is really a handicap,” Glen Besa of the Virginia Sierra Club said. “He needs to raise a lot of money and make up for that.”

Clare Malone is a former senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.