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The Washington Post’s Ralph Northam endorsement makes a great case—for Tom Perriello.

JEWEL SAMAD / Getty Images

The paper’s editorial board weighed in on Virginia’s gubernatorial race on Tuesday, backing Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, the choice of his state’s political establishment, over former Representative Tom Perriello, who’s favored by a host of national Democratic leaders, especially on the party’s progressive wing.

Though the Post called both candidates “competent, accomplished and astute,” the newspaper praised Northam for “his experience, temperament and, especially, his chances of success in the face of likely Republican control of one or both houses of the state legislature for the foreseeable future.”

His aw-shucks country-doctor affect notwithstanding, Mr. Northam is a shrewd politician whose decade in office — six years as a state senator, and now as lieutenant governor — has made him highly regarded in Richmond, including among Republican lawmakers, who tried to recruit him to switch parties in 2009. If any Democratic governor can nudge GOP majorities in his direction, it’s Mr. Northam. That matters in a state where governors, barred from running for consecutive terms, have one brief shot at getting things done.

Reminding readers of Northam’s coziness with Republicans is, as Perriello’s communications director argued on Twitter, unlikely to persuade fence-sitting Democrats eager to resist President Donald Trump and his GOP allies. (The coziness is longstanding; Northam voted twice for President George W. Bush.) Neither should most Democrats be frightened by what the Post derides as Perriello’s “soak-the-rich tax plan, which would finance two years of debt-free community college and other programs.” They should ask themselves which candidate is better prepared to channel the energy of the anti-Trump resistance into governance.

There’s also a centrist case for a candidate like Perriello. He might be left of Northam on some issues, but Daily Beast special correspondent Michael Tomasky wrote on Tuesday that “Perriello is about as close to a synthesis of the Hillary and Bernie wings as the Democratic Party is going to get.” Perriello plausibly calls himself a “pragmatic populist.” “He’s a diplomat, not a fiery agitator; he’s a Hillary Clinton admirer and a man with a pragmatically centrist voting record,” FiveThirtyEight’s Clare Malone wrote in March. “Even Perriello’s core brand of populism is different from Sanders’s— it’s a more subdued, intellectualized of-the-people-ism.”

Northam and his allies feel confident heading into Tuesday. He’s ahead in fundraising, and in some—but not all—polls. Perriello needs all the help he can get, and the Post’s editorial, in being so unpersuasive, just might provide the bump he’s hoping for.