If Virginians needed a respite from combative politics after an impassioned race for the presidency in 2016, they’ll likely feel Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie did not deliver it in their bid for the Governor’s Mansion.
After a contest which generated nearly $60 million in funds raised, polls indicate the race is down to the wire as Virginians prepare to make their decision Tuesday. The candidates were statistically tied in polls by New York Times/Siena College and Rasmussen Reports released this past weekend.
Northam, who led in most polls earlier in the year, has seen his campaign hit stumbling blocks in recent weeks.
Northam told the Norfolk-based WAVY-TV last Wednesday he would sign a bill banning the creation of sanctuary cities in Virginia, contrasting with his tie-breaking vote as Lieutenant Governor against a bill that came before the General Assembly earlier this year. Northam later told the Richmond Times-Dispatch he voted against the bill at the time because it was intended to fear-monger, since Virginia doesn’t have sanctuary cities.
The fallout was almost immediate among those in Democratic Party ranks. The progressive group Democracy for America withdrew their endorsement of Northam, calling his decision “morally debased.” The group’s founder, former party chair Howard Dean, disagreed with its decision, saying it “deeply discredits the organization.”
The next day, Virginia’s first elected black governor, Democrat Douglas Wilder declined to endorse Northam at a VCU forum. Wilder endorsed the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor, Justin Fairfax, and accusing state Democrats of mistreating Fairfax.
During the forum, Wilder weighed in on a September decision to leave Fairfax off a flier which boasted the state’s Democratic ticket. The fliers were given to canvassers from the Laborers’ International Union of North America, which had not endorsed Fairfax as a result of his opposition to two natural gas pipelines the group backs.
“It reeks of subtle racism, if not a tone deafness about how we are going to win in November,” said Quentin James, the founder of Collective PAC that supports black candidates, including Fairfax. “Leaving Justin Fairfax off … even if it’s only for a small universe of union members, still sends the wrong message.”
Both candidates accused one another of stoking racial tensions during the campaign.
A Gillespie campaign ad which featured menacing-looking, tattooed Latinos, painted Northam’s vote as Lieutenant Governor against banning sanctuary cities as enabling the MS-13 gang.
President Donald Trump seemed to echo the ad’s sentiment in a tweet urging Virginians to vote for Gillespie.
“Ralph Northam,who is running for Governor of Virginia,is fighting for the violent MS-13 killer gangs & sanctuary cities. Vote Ed Gillespie!” Trump tweeted.
In a rally supporting Virginia’s Democratic ticket, Pres. Barack Obama signaled the ad was an extension of Trump’s “divisive” politics in 2016.
“If he honestly thought these were serious issues he’d offer serious solutions. But he’s not, because what he’s really trying to deliver is fear,” Obama said. “What he really believes is if you scare enough voters you might score just enough votes to win an election.”
Gillespie accused Northam of the same type of politics in late October when Northam refused to denounce an ad by the progressive Latino Victory Fund which depicted a truck with a confederate flag and Ed Gillespie stickers trying to run over minority children.
The ad ends with a child waking up from a dream as the narrator asks if this is what Trump and Gillespie mean by “the American dream.”
The ad was later pulled in the wake of a terrorist attack in New York where a man drove a rental truck into a riverfront bike path, killing eight. The Washington Post editorial board, which has endorsed Northam, criticized the Democrat for not condemning the ad.
“It is sad that it took such a tragedy for the group to realize how out of bounds its ad was. It’s also sad that someone who promises to be a governor for all Virginians didn’t call them out right away,” the editorial board wrote.
Fadel Allassan, Managing Editor
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