Race for Virginia governor tight ahead of debate between Ralph Northam and Ed Gillespie

Northam and Gillespie prepare for second debate weeks before Election Day

ROANOKE, Va. – With just seven weeks left until Election Day, candidates for governor are preparing for the final push. Democrat Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie will face off Tuesday in the second of three debates.

The race to become the 73rd governor of Virginia continues to tighten with recent polls showing Northam and Gillespie neck and neck.

A poll by the University of Mary Washington released Monday shows 44 percent of likely voters favor Northam and 39 percent back Gillespie. Libertarian candidate Cliff Hyra received about three percent of support from the 1,000 Virginians surveyed earlier this month.

The five-point difference between Northam and Gillespie is within the margin of error for the survey, meaning the race could be even closer than those numbers suggest.

Another poll released Monday by Suffolk University shows both candidates tied at 42 percent with 12 percent of voters undecided.

With the gridlock in Washington, WSLS10 Political Analyst Ed Lynch says state and local elections are as important as ever.

"Issues that Washington has punted for years, kicking the can down the road, they haven't so much kicked it down the road in time but kicked it to the state capitals to let them deal with it," says Lynch. "Whether it's regulating abortion, the definition of marriage, fiscal policy, education policy."

Those are some of the topics Gillespie and Northam could address as they take the stage in Northern Virginia tonight. Transportation funding, healthcare and President Donald Trump could all be discussed tonight as well.

With a new governor set to be elected in less than two months, Gov. Terry McAuliffe is preparing to leave office. Many believe he may be looking toward a presidential run in 2020.

"He's certainly made some statements that indicate that. His reaction to Charlottesville indicates that as well," says Lynch. "I think he'll be one of many. He's going to have to fight and fight hard to get that national attention because he's not that well known nationally."

With the next presidential election still years away, early polls show McAuliffe would still have plenty of work to do if he does plan on running. A Zogby Poll shows Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren all leading the pack of potential Democratic candidates. McAuliffe would hold about one percent of voters surveyed. Nearly one quarter of voters are still undecided.

On Friday, McAuliffe announced more than 215,000 new jobs have been added in the Commonwealth since he took office in January, 2014. It's an announcement he could use to campaign on in a presidential bid.

WSLS10 will air tonight's debate live 7 p.m.