By Gary Robertson
RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday waded into the race and sex scandals engulfing Virginia's three leading Democrats and suggested the turmoil could improve his Republican Party's chances in the state.
A series of revelations over the past week have ensnared the governor and attorney general, both of whom admitted to wearing blackface while in college in the 1980s, and the lieutenant governor, accused of a 2004 sexual assault.
Democrats in the state urged Governor Ralph Northam, 59, to resign after a racist photo from his medical school yearbook page was made public on Friday by a conservative media website. Since then, the next two men in line to succeed the governor have been caught up in separate scandals.
Were all three to leave office, the Republican speaker of the state house would step in.
Trump, who has batted away a series of scandals involving himself and members of his administration, predicted the turmoil would help flip Virginia back to voting Republican in the 2020 elections.
"Democrats at the top are killing the Great State of Virginia," Trump wrote on Twitter early on Thursday. "If the three failing pols were Republicans, far stronger action would be taken."
Trump weighed in on Northam on Saturday, calling his actions unforgivable.
Northam denied being in the photo but admitted to having worn blackface - a practice dating to 19th-century minstrel shows caricaturing slaves - in 1984 to impersonate pop star Michael Jackson.
One of those calling for Northam's ouster, state Attorney General Mark Herring, found himself embroiled in a similar scandal on Wednesday, admitting in a statement he once donned brown face paint at a party in 1980 to impersonate a rapper.
The No. 2 in line to succeed the governor, Herring apologized for "a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity." Herring, 57, has expressed ambitions of running for governor himself.
Meanwhile, pressure on Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, 39, the No. 1 in line, intensified when his accuser released a statement alleging that he had forced himself on her sexually in a hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
The allegation first surfaced obliquely on Sunday on the Big League Politics website, which two days earlier published the photo from Northam's yearbook of a man in blackface standing beside a masked individual dressed in the hooded robe of the white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan.
Fairfax again denied wrongdoing on Wednesday, insisting his encounter with the woman was consensual.
Despite Democrats' professed commitment to rooting out bigotry and intolerance, Northam's party might be motivated to rally behind him to avoid the prospect of Republicans suddenly assuming the governorship.
The controversies have raised the improbable scenario of the party ceding the governorship to a Republican without an election. Kirk Cox, 61, the Republican speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, is No. 3 in line to succeed the governor.
Cox, a former high school teacher who has served in the state's Republican-controlled House since 1990, said he was not convinced the yearbook scandal met the threshold for an impeachable offense. He called the controversies a disturbing circumstance.
(Writing by Steve Gorman and Jonathan Allen; Editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller)