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Does This Virginia Democrat Have a Base Problem?

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who is running for governor, has a pipeline problem, and his party is letting him know about it.

The Virginia governor’s race is heating up this summer, and while Saturday’s debate between Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie was a partisan affair, Northam took heat from his own party, prompting questions about his ability to shore up the Democratic base ahead of November’s general election.

Northam defeated former Rep. Tom Perriello in the Democratic primary, but a pipeline issue is exposing deep fissures within the state’s Democratic Party.

At issue is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) – a project that would span 600 miles from West Virginia to eastern North Carolina. Far-left liberals and progressives, many of whom backed Perriello in the primary, oppose the pipeline. And at the first gubernatorial debate on Saturday, they let that opposition be known:

Northam had barely started his opening statement when a protester interrupted him with cries of “No pipeline!”

Northam reiterated his support for natural gas pipelines during the debate, and the reaction from progressives and anti-pipeline activists was swift:

“It was exactly what we expected, and excruciatingly disappointing,” said Richard Averitt, an anti-pipeline activist who also attended the debate – in reference to Northam’s stance on the ACP. “He’s lieutenant governor, and a huge percentage of his down-ticket candidates have all taken the right position on this, which is a no-pipeline position, and he is staying the course.”

“We’ll write in ‘No Pipeline,’” said his wife, Jill Averitt, when asked if either candidate had won their support.

There is one anti-pipeline candidate in the race, Cliff Hyra, who earned 3 percent of the vote in the latest VA-Gov poll. Gillespie and Northam were tied in that poll, meaning Northam’s pro-pipeline stance could be eating into support among fellow Democrats.