AS VIRGINIA’S gubernatorial campaign intensified just after Labor Day, we published an editorial criticizing Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate once known as a fixture of the GOP establishment, for flirting with the electorate’s “most noxious elements” by using Confederate monuments as a wedge issue just weeks after they were the rallying cause for racists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.
Mr. Gillespie’s campaign protested angrily, insisting to us that his focus, and that of Virginians, was on reducing penalties for marijuana possession; reforming the criminal-justice system with a focus on redemption; sluggish job creation and wage growth; sea-level rise; the opioid epidemic; surging gang activity; and the educational achievement gap. Really, Mr. Gillespie’s allies were insisting, he remains the mainstream moderate he’s always been.
Since then, however, Mr. Gillespie has doubled down on the politics of divisiveness and fear. His campaign’s thrust has not been just a dog whistle to the intolerant, racially resentful parts of the Republican base; it’s been a mating call.
Whether that’s been an effective electoral strategy will be known after the polls close Tuesday. Already, though, its cost is clear, both to Mr. Gillespie’s own moral stature and to Virginia’s status as a centrist state that, until now, has retained a modicum of political civility. By embracing President Trump’s inflammatory political tone and tenor with an advertising campaign that equated illegal immigrants with gang violence, harped on Confederate statues and suggested child sex predators are being armed by Democrats, the Gillespie campaign has crashed through the guardrails of decency.
Whether to leave or remove Confederate statues may be a genuine disagreement — Mr. Gillespie would leave them; Ralph Northam, his Democratic opponent, would remove them; neither could decide in most cases, which are under local control. But for Mr. Gillespie to whip up passions by stressing the issue immediately after the violence in Charlottesville has been to appeal to those for whom “heritage” and “tradition” are racist buzzwords.
Equally odious is Mr. Gillespie’s effort to paint Mr. Northam, a pediatric neurologist, as an enabler of child sex offenders. He did so in an attack ad blaming the Democrat for restoring voting and other rights to convicted felons who have served their time, spotlighting an ex-convict who completed his sentence years before his rights were restored by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). It’s true that Mr. Northam supports that policy; it’s unclear how it differs from that of Mr. Gillespie, whose own support for rights restoration does not exclude sex offenders.
Moreover, by flooding the airwaves with an advertisement featuring an image of a hooded Hispanic gang member, and linking it to Mr. Northam’s supposed backing of sanctuary cities — which don’t exist in Virginia — Mr. Gillespie descended into ethnic scare-mongering.
The Republican candidate insists he is proud of his detailed position papers, which he carries around in a binder featuring titles such as “Collective Impact Model as a Framework to Solve Complicated Problems.” But who is the real Mr. Gillespie — the man who wants to solve such “complicated problems” or the one content to sow hatred, suspicion and dread?
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