Virginia’s heated election cycle is becoming increasingly nasty, with the statewide Democratic ticket sending out a new mailer linking Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie and President Trump to the torch-bearing white nationalists who descended on Charlottesville over the summer.
In August, violent clashes between white supremacists in Charlottesville rallying to defend a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and counterprotestors left one woman dead and two state troopers died when their helicopter crashed.
The mailer features images of both Republican men above a photo of the white supremacists with the text, “On Tuesday November 7th, Virginia Gets To Stand Up...To Hate.”
The back of the literature features a prominent image of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam, along with Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring, with the message “This is our chance to stand up to Trump, Gillespie, and hate.” All three Democrats approved the ad, and the Democratic Party of Virginia paid for the mailer.
But Gillespie has repeatedly condemned the white nationalists behind the Charlottesville protest.
President Trump blamed both sides for the violence and said there were "very fine people" on both sides. Gillespie has said there was no "moral equivalency" between the white supremacists and counterprotesters and that he saw no "fine people" marching in Charlottesville but he stopped short of criticizing Trump, as many Republicans and Democrats did.
Gillespie’s campaign condemned the mailer, which was first reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“To now see Ralph Northam and the Democratic ticket exploit imagery from that tragic weekend to try to score political points is both outrageous and beneath the dignity of the offices they seek,” Gillespie campaign manager Chris Leavitt said in a statement. “This is an ugly political attack that has no place in our Commonwealth’s political discourse. Ralph Northam should be ashamed to have approved such a hateful mail piece.”
Northam campaign spokesman David Turner countered that the mailer was fair because Gillespie did not explicitly condemn the president’s response to the Charlottesville unrest. Democrats pummeled Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman, for not joining members of his own party, including Virginia U.S. Reps. Barbara Comstock and Scott W. Taylor, in directly criticizing Trump’s reaction.
“For 73 days, Ed Gillespie has refused to call out Donald Trump’s response to Charlottesville for what it was: disheartening and wrong,” said Turner. “When the Charlottesville community wanted leadership to help them heal, he failed. Ed Gillespie should be willing to call out Donald Trump when he’s wrong and because he won’t, he gives voters a clear choice on Nov. 7.”
Virginia politicians often pride themselves for the “Virginia Way”, a concept that stresses civil discourse and setting aside partisan divide for the public good and for most of the campaign, observers noted the genteel tone of the contest.
But in September, Gillespie began airing ads that aimed to link MS-13 gang violence to Northam, while using images of Latinos in a way Latino groups call racist and inflammatory. And another ad suggests Northam wanted to restore gun rights to violent felons.
Northam has also aired commercials blasting Gillespie's record as lobbyist that claimed he lobbied for companies sending jobs overseas and companies trying to keep student loan rates high — claims fact-checkers found lacked context or were inaccurate.
He seemed to lament the nasty tone of the campaign when speaking at a retirement community on Monday.
“We have tried to be positive,” said Northam. “Virginians deserve civility especially after 2016.”
Election Day is Nov. 7.