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Did Charlottesville Cost Ed Gillespie the Virginia Governor's Race?

mailer showing angry white men with torches beneath Donald Trump in a red Make America Great Again had and Ed Gillespie.

Last Tuesday, Democrat Ralph Northam defeated Republican Ed Gillespie in the Virginia governor's race. Northam had branded Gillespie a white nationalist in league with the rioters in Charlottesville this past summer, and some have suggested those riots cost Republicans the election. An analysis of exit polls points in the opposite direction, however.

On Saturday, the Associated Press (AP) reported that Charlottesville "loomed large" in the minds of many voters.

The Rev. Seth Wispelwey, who protested against the white nationalists in Charlottesville, said voters "had their consciences scandalized by this summer in Virginia." He noted that in the state House, conservative white men were replaced by "candidates who represent precisely who the white supremacists seek to dehumanize."

Nikuyah Walker, a black Charlottesville native who protested local leaders' responses to the riots, won election to the Charlottesville City Council. Jalane Schmidt, a local activist and associate professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, argued there was a clear link between the riots and Walker's victory.

The AP report cited the mailer Northam sent to Democrats, connecting Gillespie to Charlottesville — despite Gillespie's clear and early condemnations of the riots. The Republican did indeed oppose the removal of Confederate monuments, however. The mailer urged Democrats to "stand up to hate."

Bruce Smith, a black 62-year-old Navy veteran, told the AP that Gillespie echoed Trump's position on Confederate monuments and immigration. "He was basically talking like Trump," Smith said. "So when I heard that, I realized, this guy right here is a supporter of Trump's nasty ways and bigoted ways."

Exit polls do suggest dislike for Trump motivated Democrats to turn out last week. Black voters heavily supported Northam, and about 40 percent of voters said they would only trust Northam on race issues.

So did Charlottesville hand Northam the governorship? Did Northam's attacks on Gillespie — tying him to Charlottesville and to Trump — cause his victory?

This is a particularly vexing question, because the left's branding Gillespie a racist did not stop with the Charlottesville mailer. Just over a week before the election, a group called the Latino Victory Fund (LVF) launched a horrific video ad portraying Gillespie supporters as genocidal white supremacists. The ad showed black, Latino, and Muslim kids running from a pickup truck that would run them over. It ended with a question, "Is this what Donald Trump and Ed Gillespie mean by 'the American dream'?"

Northam refused to condemn the ad. While he said he himself would never approve such a message, his campaign reported the ad as an "in-kind contribution" from LVF, suggesting cooperation between the Northam campaign and the organization branding Gillespie supporters genocidal white terrorists.