Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam are virtually tied in the race for Virginia governor, but with signs that Gillespie may have come from behind to take the edge in the campaign’s final days.
Both candidates are focusing on issues that drive their respective party bases in a test of whether the Old Dominion has swung to the left, or can return to its center-right balance.
For much of the campaign, Gillespie has focused on bread-and-butter issues that Republicans typically use to persuade swing voters, talking about job creation, economic growth, reducing regulations, and improving education and health care. He was also running behind Northam for much of the campaign, despite the fact that Gillespie is a very seasoned and capable political strategist and campaigner.
Once a reliably red state, Virginia has trended sharply left in recent years, going for Barack Obama twice, and for Tim Kaine as governor and then as senator. The state also went for Hillary Clinton over President Donald Trump. Northam’s lead over Gillespie seemed due to this strong leftward current, given that Gillespie is a better candidate and his stand on swing-voter issues did better in the polls.
But in recent days, Gillespie has tapped into several of the issues that led to Republican victories in 2016, most notably Donald Trump’s nationwide victory with more Electoral College votes than any Republican since 1988.
Gillespie has come out swinging on immigration, hitting Northam hard for being soft on crime with an ad, “Left Wing Ralph Northam,” that explained, “MS-13 is a menace, yet Ralph Northam voted in favor of sanctuary cities that let dangerous illegal immigrants back on the street, increasing the threat of MS-13.”
Pushing back against the Far Left, Gillespie has also rallied to the defense of Virginia’s historical figures and monuments. Northam has said all of these statues and monuments must come down. In late October, a church in Alexandria, Virginia, where George Washington once attended has removed its plaque honoring America’s first president, showing how far that political movement has gone.
The Republican candidate has also been touting his support for the Second Amendment and pro-life causes, among other conservative priorities. The National Rifle Association—which is headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia—has also weighed in, pushing hard for Gillespie because of his support for gun owners.
On the other side of the ballot, Northam’s tactics have gotten desperate over the two weeks, corresponding to his lead evaporating.
Northam’s allies sparked national outrage recently, when the Latino Victory Fund ran an ad showing a pickup truck with a Gillespie bumper sticker running down children of color in the streets. A consensus has emerged that this ad is the most despicable low-blow of the entire 2017 election cycle, outraging voters and possibly backfiring on Northam’s campaign.
While Virginia has typically gone Democrat in recent years even when Republicans won nationally, a Gillespie victory would be a vindication of the principles President Trump ran on and a significant boost to the president’s agenda, potentially setting the stage to oust Tim Kaine from the Senate in 2018, and for Virginia to swing Republican in the 2020 national election for president.
Virginians go to the polls to elect a new governor on November 7.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.