RICHMOND — Republican Ed Gillespie, who is running for Virginia governor in 2017, carefully avoided taking sides in his party’s divisive presidential nomination contest — until now.
On Wednesday, with just one contender left standing, Gillespie said he would vote for Donald Trump.
Gillespie’s statement carries some risk in Virginia, where the political strategist and former Republican National Committee chairman will have to appeal to swing voters if he is to win the governor’s mansion. Polls show Hillary Clinton easily trouncing Trump in the purple state.
Gillespie kept it short. He offered a one-sentence statement in response to requests from reporters, in a tone that sounded resigned at best. And he suggested that he was weighing the fate of the Supreme Court as much as the impact of a comparatively fleeting presidential term.
“Republican voters have nominated Donald Trump for president,” Gillespie said, “and I will vote for him against Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, in an election that will not only affect control of the White House but the U.S. Supreme Court for a generation or more.”
Another Republican running for Virginia governor, U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, also issued a statement indicating that he would support Trump. He managed to do so without ever using the word “Trump.”
“As a public servant, I think that it’s critically important for the people to have the final say in choosing our party’s nominee,” Wittman said. “I have maintained throughout this primary season that I will support that choice. What is most important to me, looking ahead to November, is principle. I want to see our Commonwealth and our country support Republican candidates who will advance pro-growth, conservative ideas and rein in the Washington machine ushered in by the left.”
Democrats pounced, issuing a statement that sought to link Gillespie to some of Trump’s most controversial comments. (Wittman’s statement came after the Democrats sent out their release, so it needled him only for remaining “silent.”)
“With Gillespie’s newfound support of Trump, Virginians are left with several questions: Does Gillespie support Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border?,” the Democratic Party of Virginia said in its release. “Does Gillespie agree with Donald Trump that women should be punished for seeking abortions? Does Gillespie agree with Donald Trump that Islam hates America and that Muslims should be banned from traveling to the United States?”
Chris Leavitt, executive director of Gillespie’s Let’s Grow, Virginia! political action committee, declined to respond in detail.
“When he runs for governor, Ed will put forward his own positive vision to get Virginia moving again,” Leavitt said. “In the meantime, he’s not going to respond to every partisan Democratic press release.”
There is one uninhibited Trump cheerleader among Virginia's Republican gubernatorial hopefuls: Corey Stewart is chairman of Trump’s Virginia campaign. The Democrats’ statement referred to the “Trump-Gillespie-Stewart platform,” which it said would be a “disaster” for the state.
“Now is the time for Virginians to come together and stand behind Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for President,” said Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. “Virginia is an essential state this November, and all of us need to band together to defeat Hillary Clinton.”