Of the three off-cycle elections held Tuesday, Virginia, New Jersey and New York City, the Virginia race has emerged as the one to watch because despite Virginia trending back into the Democratic column after three decades as a GOP stronghold, Republican Edward W. Gillespie has a solid chance to beat Democrat Lt. Gov. (Dr.) Ralph S. Northam.
The campaign has been filled with the salacious drama we have come to expect from Virginia gubernatorial contests, most notably the hateful ad from a Northam-allied group which implies that Southerners, conservatives, and people who drive trucks are racist murderers.
Here are the top three reasons why Gillespie wins.
3. Serious nationwide GOP support for Gillespie’s Campaign
The Republican National Committee made a mistake in 2014 in failing to aggressively back Gillespie’s U.S. Senate run, where he ran far closer to Democrat Sen. Mark Warner than anyone (except Gillespie) expected. Data analysis by Deep Root Analytics suggested an opportunity for a win; who knows what could have been with a late infusion of RNC cash. This time, the RNC has supported his effort to the hilt, as reported by Seth McLaughlin of The Washington Times.
My own observation and conversations with conservative activists from around the country reveal that GOP activists are fanatically engaged, spreading the word online and knocking huge numbers of doors. Especially after the Latino Victory Fund’s craven attack ad that showed a Gillespie supporter hunt down four minority children with his Confederate flagged pickup truck. Gillespie will benefit from high morale volunteers and ample resources with which to capitalize on his winning closing argument.
Virginia has been an increasingly tough nut for Republicans to crack at the statewide level. Hillary Clinton won in 2016 by a comfortable 5.3 percentage points; contrast that with her nail-biting margins over President Donald J. Trump in New Hampshire, 0.3 percent; Nevada, 2.4 percent; and the beating red heart of American progressivism, Minnesota, 1.5 percent.
Gillespie’s disciplined campaign, aggressive moves to dominate the narrative and strong support from the national GOP will be enough to put him over the top.
2. The Democrats have played into Gillespie’s framing trap
The Northam campaign has not responded well to Republican attacks, directly answering the charges rather than making a bold pivot to a topic of strength.
Furthermore, they have not been helped by national Democrats. Democratic National Committee Chairman Thomas E. Perez doubled down on the Latino Victory Fund assault, agreeing that the Gillespie campaign is comprised of racists and dismissing the horrified reactions of Virginia citizens as “crocodile tears.”
This response validated the GOP framing that the Democrats are all about vicious identity politics, and it further hamstrings Northam’s defense. Northam has portrayed himself as a simple country doctor–quite a contrast from the hard-nosed race baiter, who approved the pickup truck ad.
Despite Virginia going three times for the Democrats in the presidential contest, they are not immune to the general disgust with negative campaigning–and Gillespie has not allowed Northam to wiggle out of this trap.
1. Gillespie has been relentlessly aggressive
Most Virginians never gave Northam a second thought before this campaign, so he had to introduce himself.
Gillespie is a known quantity because of his close race with Warner in 2012–a race he has obviously been thinking about for the last five years.
In maneuver warfare, the goal is to seize and keep the initiative, forcing your enemy to react to your moves from an unbalanced position. The same strategy works well in politics, and the Gillespie campaign has done an admirable job here. Gillespie wisely began the final stretch by hammering Northam, who remember is a doctor, on sanctuary cities and MS-13 gang violence, positioning himself well to escalate once the Latino Victory Fund ran its ill-advised slander piece.
Team Gillespie pounced on the nakedly Leftist overstep of the pickup truck ad, and kept up their attack straight into their Get-Out-The-Vote phase. The Northam campaign has been cornered into a weak defensive stance, spending nearly all its time refuting Gillespie’s attacks. This is not the look of a winning campaign. Gillespie deserves credit for this performance. Republicans have not always moved so decisively to control the narrative, especially Republicans who are seen as more establishment in character, like Gillespie. It is the nature of consultant-heavy GOP campaigns to rely on personal attacks that ridicule the Democrat, while ceding the issues on the battlefield.
This time, Gillespie stood up and fought on the issues–a decision that made him the next governor of Virginia.