RICHMOND — Former congressman Tom Perriello joined a handful of college students on Monday as they pressed Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie, a former Washington lobbyist and strategist, to disclose the names of clients he has represented over the past five years.
It’s the kind of campaign event that would have been expected of Perriello had he won the June 13 Democratic primary for governor. He lost to Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, but there he was anyway, stumping for Northam.
“Whenever I can be useful, I’m there,” Perriello said after his appearance at Virginia Commonwealth University. “This is an all-hands-on-deck moment. I was very clear with the Northam campaign and party that if I can be helpful, put me in.”
Perriello is leading Win Virginia, a political action committee that is trying to help Democrats build their numbers in the GOP-controlled House of Delegates in November. The PAC is especially focused on 17 Republican seats in districts where Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election.
Perriello, who estimated he covered 800 miles last weekend promoting Northam and Democratic House candidates, is on the campaign trail for Northam in a way that’s unusual even for good sports. The primary loser is expected to promptly concede, endorse the winner and pretty much fade away.
That hasn’t happened on the Republican side either. After narrowly losing the GOP primary to Gillespie, Corey A. Stewart has stayed visible — but not in a way that’s likely to help Gillespie, who polls show is locked in a close contest with the Democrat.
Chairman of President Trump’s Virginia campaign until he went too rogue even for that unconventional outfit, Stewart tormented the man he derided as “Enron Ed” during the primary for his establishment ties. Stewart has barely turned down the rhetoric since. He has continued to call Gillespie weak on illegal immigrants and even blasted his choice of campaign-commercial attire, advising him to lose the “dorky Mister Rogers” sweater.
Stewart also immediately jumped into another race, to take on Sen. Tim Kaine (D) in 2018, which has kept him in the news.
Although polls show Republicans are lining up behind Gillespie, Stewart recently told the Daily Beast that Gillespie remains weak with the party’s conservative base — something he says he could help Gillespie shore up if only the nominee would ask.
“I don’t want to overplay my significance, but it would help if I got out there and encouraged people at rallies to vote,” Stewart said, according to the website. “Ed has not asked for my help. If asked, I would give it.”
Gillespie’s campaign and Stewart did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But Gillespie’s campaign has noted in the past that while he has worked as a political consultant for various corporations, he has not worked as a lobbyist for 10 years. In April, Gillespie voluntarily disclosed his consulting clients for 2016. When he unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) in 2014, Gillespie disclosed clients he represented the previous year.
With Stewart still playing up rifts within the GOP, Perriello has been trying to smooth over those exposed by the Democratic primary. In a submission to the Blue Virginia blog, Perriello took on the biggest issue that divided them: a pair of proposed natural gas pipelines that Perriello opposes and Northam supports if they can be built safely.
The headline there: “Why I oppose the pipelines and strongly support Ralph Northam.”
Virginia’s race for governor continues to look like a close contest, as Northam has a slight but statistically insignificant edge over Gillespie in one new poll of likely voters and another new poll shows a dead heat.
Northam is the pick for 44 percent of likely voters and Gillespie gets 39 percent in the University of Mary Washington survey released Monday. That five-point difference is within the poll’s margin of error of 5.2 percent for likely voters.
Libertarian candidate Cliff Hyra gets 3 percent of likely voters in the survey, with 14 percent undecided.
A poll of likely voters from Suffolk University in Boston finds the race evenly split at 42 percent for both Gillespie and Northam, with Hyra drawing 3 percent and 12 percent of likely voters saying they’re undecided.
“Both candidates have a lot of work to do between now and November,” UMW political scientist Stephen J. Farnsworth said in a statement accompanying that school’s results.
The UMW survey was conducted from Sept. 5-12 with telephone interviews of a representative sample of 1,000 Virginians over age 18. Of those, 562 identified themselves as likely voters.
The Suffolk University poll was conducted Sept. 13-17 among 500 likely Virginia voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
Other polls ahead of the Nov. 7 election have also shown a tight race, with surveys from Quinnipiac University and Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs showing similar results last month.
Gregory S. Schneider contributed to this report.