Virginia Democrat Ralph Northam is airing a new statewide commercial in the final days of the governor's race in which he calls negative ads from his Republican opponent "despicable."
After weeks of advertising from Republican Ed Gillespie that sought to tie Northam first to MS-13 gang violence and then to a child pornographer, Northam's new commercial blasts them as "false attacks."
Since September, Gillespie has been airing a controversial commercial — that appears to have been viewed by both President Trump and former president Barack Obama — that suggests Northam is responsible for an increased the threat of MS-13 gang violence. Media fact-checkers have found those claims false.
Northam's new ad slams it as "fearmongering," while highlighting his background as an Army doctor and pediatrician, and touts he helped pass tougher penalties for gang members and "violent sexual predators" as a state senator.
"I'm a pediatrician, and for Ed Gillespie to say I would tolerate anyone hurting a child is despicable," Northam says to the camera.
That's a reference to Gillespie's latest line of attack criticizing Northam for supporting Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe's restoration of voting rights to felons who completed their sentences, including a suspected child pornographer.
In campaign ads airing this week, Gillespie highlights the case of John Bowen — who was convicted in 2001 of aggravated sexual battery and indecent liberties with a minor. His voting rights were briefly restored two months after he was arrested, but not convicted, on suspicion of having a large trove of child pornography. He lost his voting rights again in January when he pleaded guilty to the pornography charges.
McAuliffe, who cannot seek consecutive terms, defended the restoration of felon rights, saying it's the same system that exists in 40 other states.
Gillespie's ads also say the restoration of voting rights made it easier for felons to get a gun. Felons still needed a judge's approval to legally obtain firearms.
Dave Abrams, a spokesman for Gillespie, said Northam's response ad does not dispute any specific facts.
"He apparently cannot refute any of it," said Abrams. "And these issues matter."
The war over the airwaves comes as Election Day looms on Nov. 7. The race has taken a nasty turn, and Democrats have sent out a mailer that links Gillespie to the white nationalists who marched over the summer in Charlottesville.
Quentin Kidd, a pollster and political scientist at Christopher Newport University, said he sees Northam heeding the lessons of not letting attacks go unanswered.
"It's largely akin to trench warfare," Kidd said. "The Northam campaign's full-throated response is essentially a full-throated defense of the small lead that they have."
Most public polls show Gillespie and Northam tied or Northam with a slight lead.
While Northam's ad hits Gillespie for dubious facts in his ads about gang violence, it also contained a factual error.
The commercials says he helped pass legislation strengthening gang penalties, but the bill cited on the screen did not pass.
A spokesman for Northam said the ad will be corrected to reflect different legislation that Northam supported and became law.