Republican Ed Gillespie (R) and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) might be debating abortion and Confederate Civil War statutes in advance of Virginia’s November gubernatorial election, but as far as national political leaders and pundits are concerned this race is all about Donald Trump.
They also think the results could be harbingers of the nation’s 2018 midterm elections.
As a result, political action committees have invested millions of dollars from outside Virginia in the election to replace Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who can’t run for re-election.
There is no doubt the camps of Gillespie and Northam see the purple state of Virginia in colors of red and blue.
Northam has campaigned as a champion of abortion rights.
His opponent, Republican Ed Gillespie, has said he wants abortion banned except in cases of rape, incest and when the procedure is needed to save the mother’s life.
“I would like to see abortion be banned because I think it is a taking of an innocent human life,” Gillespie said at a candidates’ forum before the June GOP primary. “It is not the law of the land today.”
Republicans run the Virginia Legislature, and they have consistently tried to make it tougher for women to get abortions. But Democratic Gov. McAuliffe has vetoed GOP-backed bills to defund Planned Parenthood and restrict abortions.
If Gillespie wins, pro-life forces are confident he will tear down the “brick wall” that McAuliffe set up to protect women’s reproductive rights.
But if Northam wins, Don Blake, president of the Virginia Christian Alliance, told the Washington Post he fears the worst.
“Eight years of consecutive Democrat, anti-life leadership,” Blake said, “and it would be very difficult to retract any of that and retain the ground we lose.”
Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro Choice Virginia, told the Post she was just as adamant about the necessity of a Northam victory.
“We need someone who is unwavering,” Keene said. “We have seen that happen before where our rights could be put on the table, on the negotiating block. We cannot tolerate that anymore.”
Gillespie and Northam are also on opposite sides of the Confederate statues debate.
“I believe that decisions about historical statues are best made at the local level, but they should stay and be placed in historical context,” Gillespie said in a statement released after August’s deadly protest over the fate of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Va.
“Our history is our history,” Gillespie added.
Northam has a different view of remembering Virginia’s history.
He said in a statement that Virginia’s Civil War statues should be taken down and taken to museums.
“We should also do more to elevate the parts of our history that have all too often been underrepresented,” Northam said. “That means memorializing civil rights advocates like Barbara Johns and Oliver Hill, who helped move our commonwealth closer towards equality.”
Civil War statues and abortion rights aside, as far as Tom Steyer, the president of NextGen America, sees it from his office in California, the Virginia gubernatorial race is all about Trump.
That’s why Steyer said NextGen America is pumping $1 million into the Virginia election on behalf of the Northam campaign.
“In November, Virginia has an opportunity to tell the president that his hateful, anti-immigrant agenda is fundamentally at odds with American values and our shared history,” said Steyer.
Politico reported Planned Parenthood Votes and Planned Parenthood Virginia PCA, along with Priorities USA Action and the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, are all committed to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars each in support of Northam.
Planned Parenthood’s ads, which are the first to run in Virginia, describe Northam, who is a physician, as a “true champion for women’s health.”
“When it comes to women’s health in Virginia, everything is on the line, which is why we are doubling down to elect progressive champion Ralph Northam,” said Deirdre Schifeling, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes.
From the other side of the political spectrum, Americans for Prosperity, which launched a multimillion-dollar ad campaign touting the candidacy of Gillespie in September, would like to make the election more about Barack Obama than Donald Trump.
AFP-Virginia State Director J.C. Hernandez said Obamacare has been “a disaster for Virginia.”
“All those Obamacare defenders who promised healthcare premiums would go down $2,500 and promised we’d have more choices have some explaining to do, starting with Ralph Northam,” Hernandez said.
Even though most people say they hate them, PAC ads from the right and the left could be much more than political clutter on TV stations, smartphones and laptops in Virginia.
Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said national issues could resonate much louder than state or local issues for Virginia voters in November.
A Monmouth University poll released in July showed the Virginia governor’s election was tied with each candidate supported by 44 percent of likely voters.
“A small but crucial portion of Northam’s support is coming from voters who are primarily anti-Trump. Unless one of the candidates breaks out with a clear advantage on Virginia-centric issues, the president could wind up as a decisive factor in the outcome,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Murray said, ”2017 may turn out to be the first time you can credibly draw a direct link between the Oval Office and the race for (Virginia) governor.”