Republican gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie is getting it from all sides in Virginia’s race for governor. Two weeks from today Virginians go to the polls in a race that most pollsters say Democrat Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam leads by a few points. Unfortunately for Gillespie, President Trump’s presence is strongly felt in a state in which his approval rating recently came in at a feeble 35 percent.

In a call-in interview with local Virginia TV, Gillespie let out a forced laugh when pressed on whether Trump would campaign with him. Asked about whether former President George W. Bush, Gillespie’s former boss (who last week delivered a blistering attack on Trumpism), had given him any tips on distancing himself from Trump, Gillespie said no, and then abruptly launched into a soliloquy on doing business with whomever is in the White House.

Democrats are also pushing back against Gillespie’s Trump-like ads featuring ominous Hispanic gang members and fanning  hysteria about sanctuary cities, of which there are none in the state. Inside NOVA reported:

The [Gillespie immigration] ad seeks to draw a connection between Northam’s vote against a bill to ban “sanctuary cities” in Virginia to the proliferation of the MS-13 street gang in the D.C. suburbs. Activists around the state have already attacked the ads as a racial dog whistle, and many in attendance kept up that argument as they rallied volunteers to Northam’s cause.
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., was among several to draw a direct line from Gillespie’s advertisements to the man that bested his one-time running mate in the race for the White House, noting that “Virginia rejected that kind of language from Donald Trump last fall.”
“It’s a desperation ad,” Kaine said in an interview. “I think people realize it’s sort of bogus. But it also sends a sign of desperation and hearkens back to this divisive stuff. That’s not who Virginia is these days. I think when people see an ad like that, they say, ‘We don’t want to be associated with that.’”

As Bush 43 put it in his speech last week on the state of politics, “Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.  . . . We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism – forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.”

The reason Gillespie has transformed himself from a pro-immigration reform moderate Republican to a fire-breathing nativist is not hard to discern. He wants to energize Trump voters, hoping they turn out in force while Democrats stay home. It’s not clear, however, that Gillespie is convincing enough voters in the red enclaves of Virginia that he’s a Trumpian at heart.

People in Virginia’s coal country still love President Donald Trump, but not his pick to be their next governor.
Ed Gillespie is a Washington insider and Trump’s choice as Virginians prepare to go to the polls. The president promised southwest Virginia voters in a tweet, “Ed Gillespie will never let you down!” . . . But Gillespie is about as un-Trumplike as a candidate can be, and generates much less interest. Williams said he’s doesn’t know much about who is on the Nov. 7 ballot or what they stand for.

He’s no Roy Moore (the GOP Senate nominee in Alabama), which for Gillespie’s target audience in coal country is a bad thing. To them Gillespie may come across as a Washington politician playing them as fools. Is Gillespie still the Gillespie from his days a Bush adviser, an advocate of immigration? Or is Gillespie now a committed nationalist, a dogged defender of Confederate statues? Maybe both — or neither.

One can almost imagine the old Gillespie remarking on the sort of campaign he’s now running. C’mon, folks. This isn’t 1967. Virginia’s a modern, inclusive state. We should want every immigrant who wants to work hard in our state. Put away the race-baiting and scare-mongering. A lot of people in moderate Northern Virginia (the biggest population center) might have voted for that Gillespie.