Ralph Northam (left) and Ed Gillespie Getty Images

Democrat Ralph Northam won the closely-watched governor’s race in Virginia Tuesday night, according to a projection by NBC.

The contest was seen as an early bellwether of the 2018 midterm elections and of President’s Trump’s political clout.

Democrats sent in their biggest guns — former President Obama and ex-VP Joe Biden — to stump with Northam, the lieutenant governor, while Trump issued a last-minute appeal to the GOP faithful to back Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman.

Early voting was heavy.

The 180,000 absentee ballots returned as of Sunday were up 60,000 than all absentee votes cast in the 2013 gubernatorial election.

Trump was a factor in the campaign, according to exit polls.

Among those who voted early, the president had a 55 percent job disapproval rating.

And about one-third of voters who cast a ballot expressed opposition to Trump, double the 16 percent who voted to support the president.

Northam, 58, a pediatric neurologist and military veteran who treated wounded soldiers during Operation Desert Storm attacked Trump as a “narcissistic maniac” during the Democratic primary.

Backed by the teachers’ union, Northam ran ads linking Gillespie to Trump’s education policy favoring charter schools.

Conversely, Gillespie, 56, who served as counselor to former President George W. Bush, kept his distance from the president.

But at the last minute, Trump intervened with a partisan appeal that claimed the Democrat would allow crime to run “rampant.”

“@EdWGillespie will totally turn around the high crime and poor economic performance of VA. MS-13 and crime will be gone. Vote today, ASAP!,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning.

“Ralph Northam will allow crime to be rampant in Virginia. He’s weak on crime, weak on our GREAT VETS, Anti-Second Amendment….and has been horrible on Virginia economy. Vote @EdWGillespie today!

While he didn’t embrace Trump, Gillespie ran on a populist, conservative Trumpian platform.

He promoted proposals that included a 10 percent across-the-board income tax cut rate, opposed illegal immigration/sanctuary cities and abortion and defended Confederate monuments and gun rights.

Six in 10 voters said they want Confederate monuments left in place.

Northam waffled on the issue. First, he said the monuments should be removed and placed in museums. He then backed off, saying local officials should decide the issue.

The issue of immigration also haunted Northam.

A pro-Northam group, the Latino Victory Fund, ran ads featuring a Gillespie sticker attached to a pickup truck chasing down immigrant children.

The Gillespie campaign responded with its own ad accusing Democrats of showing their “disdain” for conservative voters.

Northam also got hit from the left, when he vowed in a radio interview to sign a bill banning the creation of sanctuary cities.

Exit polls found that a plurality of voters — 40 percent — said health care was the most important issue in the race, more than double the 16 percent each who cited gun policy, immigration and taxes.

SOURCE: New York Post – Carl Campanile