A spokesman for Ed Gillespie, the front-runner in this year’s GOP primary for Virginia governor, says a new attack ad launched by a rival’s campaign is deceptive and a sign of desperation.
Corey Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors who is battling Gillespie for the nomination, began airing a statewide radio ad and YouTube video Wednesday that incorrectly says Gillespie told The Washington Post he is opposed to any state legislation that would bar local communities from removing Confederate monuments.
In a February article about Stewart rallying to stop Charlottesville from removing a Robert E. Lee statue from a downtown park, The Post paraphrased Gillespie as saying that he does not support relocating statues but that such decisions should be left to local officials.
Stewart, who has made the preservation of Confederate monuments a central theme of his campaign, has seized on that sentence to blast Gillespie as supporting the purge of Confederate symbols.
A conservative Facebook page run by Stewart allies shared the Post article, altering the headline from “Protesters mob provocative Va. governor candidate as he defends Confederate statue” to “Gillespie: I’m OK with Charlottesville Taking Down the General Lee Monument.”
Facebook removed the post, saying it violated its standards against “misleading” content after the Associated Press inquired about the matter.
That headline is repeated in the digital video version of Stewart’s radio ad. Stewart pegged the cost of the radio campaign at $10,000.
In an interview, Stewart said he is right to make the leap from Gillespie describing Confederate monuments as a local issue to saying his rival supports their removal.
“It’s a different way of saying the same thing. . . . He said it was a local issue, and he would do nothing as governor to stop a locality from removing a statue,” Stewart said. “He’s a typical establishment Republican who is parsing his words.”
Public polls suggest Stewart’s attacks on Gillespie have yet to resonate. A Christopher Newport University poll released this week found Gillespie’s lead among Republican-leaning voters had expanded to 38 percent, while Stewart trailed at 11 percent and state Sen. Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach) drew 10 percent.
“It’s pretty clear that he’s desperate to salvage a flailing campaign,” said Matt Moran, a Gillespie spokesman.
Stewart drew condemnation from the state party chair last week for describing Gillespie as a “cuckservative,” a term employed by the far right and nationalist groups to denounce people who are insufficiently conservative.
“We are very confident that Ed’s vision and policies and positive, issue-focused campaign will carry the day, but when someone lies, we will set the record straight when a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can log on to Twitter,” Moran said.
Stewart’s radio ad also says Gillespie “lobbied for illegal-alien amnesty” and said he would “veto a ban on late-term abortion.”
In 2013, Gillespie appeared on CNBC to describe an immigration overhaul bill in the Senate that included a pathway to legal status as “the right approach” with amendments, but he did not discuss the legal-status provisions. During his Senate campaign against Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) the next year, Gillespie supported legal status for immigrants living in the country illegally after if they passed background checks, paid back taxes and met other requirements.
And Gillespie said he would support a bill this year that would ban abortion after 20 weeks if it included exemptions for rape and incest. He stopped short of saying he would veto legislation without those exemptions.