Who is Ralph Northam, the Virginia governor who faces resignation calls after racist yearbook photo?

Christal Hayes

WASHINGTON – The backlash was nearly instant.

Within hours of a photo surfacing on Friday that showed Virginia's Democratic governor in a photo showing two people dressed in blackface in Ku Klux Klan robes, a chorus calling for Ralph Northam to resign grew and spread across social media. 

The photo was part of Northam's 1984 yearbook during his last year at Eastern Virginia Medical School. A half-page with four photos of Northam included one of two people, one in a blackface costume and the other wearing a KKK robe. 

Northam admitted he was in the photo and apologized, but did not detail which of the pictured individuals he was dressed up as. 

Related Video: Ralph Northam Apologizes For 1984 Racist Photo

So, who is Ralph Northam? Here's what you should know: 

Soft-spoken and moderate 

Northam is widely viewed as a moderate within his party, someone who says he voted twice for former Republican President George W. Bush.

He has described himself as a fiscal conservative but socially liberal, as Northam has advocated for tighter gun laws and loosening abortion restrictions. Republicans in the state at one point tried to recruit Northam to switch parties, according to the New York Times, something Northam rejected. 

A former doctor, Northam is soft-spoken and was relatively unknown outside of Virginia when he took up a bid for governor. 

Northam entered politics in 2007 when he ran and won a bid to become a state senator. In 2013, he took up a bid for lieutenant governor, winning the post to become second in command for then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe. 

His military, medical history 

Before his political career, Northam served as a doctor in the U.S. Army and treated soldiers overseas during the Gulf War. 

He served eight years in the military and traveled to Germany where he tended to soldiers during Operation Desert Storm. 

He attended both Virginia Military Institute and Eastern Virginia Medical School and, after completing his residency, started treating children as a pediatric neurologist. 

He continued that work while serving as lieutenant governor, spending his days both at the state capitol and treating children suffering from illnesses.  

Response to Charlottesville

The deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville stunned the nation and thrust the small, southern city into the epicenter of a radical discussion about race and anti-Semitism. 

After the 2017 rally, which left one woman dead and several injured after a neo-Nazi rammed his car into a group of counterprotesters, politics became even divisive. 

President Donald Trump cast blame on "both sides" and said "you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides," causing an uproar that took over the news cycle for days. 

Northam, after the rally, denounced the "ugly" event and praised the city and its residents for promoting a place that values "openness, diversity and inclusion," according to the Washington Post. 

"White supremacists have descended upon Charlottesville again to evoke a reaction as ugly and violent as their beliefs — just as they did before, I am urging Virginians to deny them the satisfaction," Northam said in a statement.

More: 'I am deeply sorry': Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam apologizes for yearbook photo with blackface, KKK costumes

More: Calls for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to resign flood in after blackface, KKK photo surfaces

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam speaks during a news conference in the Crystal City neighborhood in Arlington, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. Amazon, which has grown too big for its Seattle hometown, said it will split its much-anticipated second headquarters between New York and northern Virginia.

An effort to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee led to the rally and violence. 

Northam, at first, supported the removal of all Confederate statues in the aftermath of the event. He later changed his mind, saying it should be left up to local officials. 

Racially charged governor's race

Northam ran for governor in 2017 in the aftermath of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, an event that shifted politics in the state. 

The rally drew neo-Nazis and members of the alt-right, many of whom carried Confederate flags or wore clothing with Nazi or KKK insignias. 

The November 2017 election was one of Virginia's most racially charged in recent memory and ended with Northam beating Republican Ed Gillespie.

Voters were peppered with ads about the Charlottesville unrest. 

Many of Northam's attack ads focused on Gillespie's lobbying efforts but one mailer sought to compare Gillespie with the white nationalists who rallied in the city. The mailer, which included a photo of Gillespie and white nationalists, said the election was a chance to "stand up... to hate." 

Obama campaigned for him

During the 2017 campaign for governor, Northam was one of the candidates that former President Barack Obama supported. 

During a rally in October 2017 rally, Obama, the first black president of the U.S., campaigned for Northam and addressed the events of Charlottesville, saying one rises by not repeating the past. 

"You know, Ralph believes that if we're going to talk about history hen we should do it in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds, not in a way that divides," Obama said. "We saw what happened in Charlottesville. But we also saw what happened after Charlottesville when the biggest gatherings of all rejected fear and rejected hate."

The former president continued: "That's how we rise. We don't rise up by repeating the past. We rise up by learning from the past and by listening to each other and knowing that we're all flawed. But we still try to preserve some baseline measure of goodness and decency and patriotism and we look for the good in other people, not the worst."

Contributing: Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Who is Ralph Northam, the Virginia governor who faces resignation calls after racist yearbook photo?