Campaign managers for Republican Ed Gillespie and Democratic governor-elect Ralph Northam gave 250 Virginians a behind-the-scenes look to this year’s election during a discussion hosted by the Virginia Public Access Project at George Mason University Nov. 13.
The free and public event was arranged to be a civil conversation between Gillespie campaign manager Chris Levitt and Northam campaign manager Brad Komar where they reflected upon the governor’s race and shared their most memorable moments.
“What we seek to do is to analyze what happened and why. Tonight we come together with the campaign managers who have graciously agreed to participate,” said Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government, who mediated the conversation.
Northam won by roughly 250,000 votes winning 54 percent of Virginia, compared to Gillespie’s 45 percent. Northam won Richmond with 81 percent of the vote.
“Republicans here in Virginia have become accustomed to public opinion polls, which are historically inaccurate. We thought it was gonna be close,” Levitt said.
Komar followed up with how he believed their campaign was able to get democrats to the polls.
“A lot of the Democratic energy is in response to what’s going on in Washington. The enthusiasm we saw was in response to President Trump on the democratic side,” Komar said.
Levitt claimed the Gillespie campaign didn’t want to nationalize the race; however, Northam’s campaign focused heavily on how Trump’s policies would hurt Virginians.
“My biggest takeaway from this race is trying to look forward not backward,” Komar said, “We knew the story we wanted to tell voters about Ralph and our opponent. I think we stayed true to Ralph, which is so important.”
When asked about the most immediate lessons learned during the race, Komar responded with the essentiality of relentlessness. Throughout the entire campaign, Northam volunteers knocked on 3.9 million doors — doubling the amount the Clinton campaign reached and quadrupling the number of doors knocked on by Virginia governor, Terry McAuliffe.
“We have volunteers do handwritten notes, you see an increase of voter turnout,” Levitt said. “When you’re on these campaigns, you’re always trying to find ways to be authentic or unique.”
The topic of campaign advertisements was also broached during the discussion. Earlier this fall, campaigns attacking both of the candidates were released and received backlash.
An anti-Gillespie advertisement released by the Latino Victory Fund depicted Gillespie supporters as Confederate racists who prey on minority children.
The arguably controversial advertisement was not directly affiliated with the Northam campaign. Komar said that they had not seen the ad before it aired and did not authorize it.
Immediately following his response, a member from the audience shouted “Liar!” at the campaign manager.
“I believe that the Latino community felt it was under attack based on the ads that were being run by the Gillespie campaign and felt they needed to respond,” Komar said.
The majority of the campaign budget goes towards television and radio advertisements. Both candidates agreed there’s a lot of people who aren’t accessible through broadcasted advertisements, bringing both candidates to become more active on social media.
Levitt claimed Snapchat has become the new yard sign, enabling young voters to express their alliance through different social media platforms.
Both campaigns also used apps that revolutionized modern voting by allowing users to text questions or concerns about policies to members of their staff.
The event was livestreamed on YouTube, receiving nearly 900 views, and is still open for viewing.
Emma Gauthier, Contributing Writer