- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2017

Both of the major candidates for governor in Virginia say racists have no place in the Old Dominion — but Democratic nominee Ralph Northam said President Trump’s response to the ugly events is also an issue for state voters.

Mr. Northam, the state’s current lieutenant governor, said Mr. Trump squandered his chance to take a bold stand against the white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups that converged on Charlottesville for a protest over the city council’s push to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy’s top general, from a park.

“This denouncement is too little, too late,” Mr. Northam said Monday, pointedly thanking Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, for showing leadership “from the start.”

Mr. Trump’s initial response Saturday involved calling for calm and saying “many sides” were fomenting unrest. Critics said he should have specifically challenged the white nationalists and neo-Nazis who organized a rally, and who were met by counterprotests, sparking clashes.

After the clashes a man, who apparently marched with the white supremacists, plowed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman and wounding 19 other people, authorities said.

Both Mr. Northam and GOP nominee Ed Gillespie were quick to denounce the white nationalists who organized the rally. But it was only Monday that the president was that specific.

“Racism is evil,” Mr. Trump said Monday. “Those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”

With polls showing Mr. Trump’s approval rating is underwater in Virginia, Mr. Northam and Democrats are banking on the notion that Mr. Trump’s loss to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in Virginia remains an accurate reflection of the state’s electorate and that the anti-Trump “resistance” spells trouble for Mr. Gillespie.

“For Northam, he is looking at, ‘I am running against an unpopular president and against a reasonably sounding center-right Republican, so who am I going to use to galvanize my base more?’” said Geoffrey Skelley, of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “And that is definitely President Trump. I suspect he will bring up Trump whenever he can.”

Mr. Gillespie, meanwhile, has tried to focus on his plans for bolstering the state’s economy through less regulation and cutting taxes, and to stay away from getting bogged down in the media circus over Mr. Trump.

Mr. Gillespie did not mention Mr. Trump in his Charlottesville response.

He said he agreed with Mr. McAuliffe that the people that brought their “hate, their white supremacism, their neo-Nazism” into the state need to leave.

“We have stared down racism, and Nazism, and white supremacy before, and we will stare it down again, we are staring it down now. We will emerge from this stronger as a Commonwealth, and I believe, as a country,” Mr. Gillespie told WVIR-29, the NBC affiliate in Charlottesville.

Political observers said the events will likely loom over the governor’s race and could force both of the candidates to toughen their rhetoric on the subject.

The violence spilled over onto the streets of Charlottesville months after the city council voted in February to remove the Robert E. Lee statue from Emancipation Park. Opponents sued, and the statue has stayed in place while the legal issues get sorted out.

Both Mr. Gillespie and Mr. Northam have the same stance on issues involving Confederate statues, saying local governments should have the final say.

The debate, though, caused Mr. Gillespie headaches in his GOP primary race against Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart.

Mr. Stewart vowed to fight to protect the state’s Confederate monuments and said Mr. Gillespie was weak on the issue. He nearly defeated Mr. Gillespie in June’s primary.

Mr. Stewart is now running for the Senate in 2018 and says the media, Democrats and Republicans are ignoring groups on the radical left that he said instigated a lot of the violence that played out over the weekend.

“I think the president was right to condemn all the violence,” he said, adding many Republicans are too “dumb” to recognize they are falling into a liberal trap.

Asked whether he will pressure Mr. Gillespie to take a stronger stand on Confederate statues, Mr. Stewart said he will leave that up to voters.

“I think it would behoove him to take a stronger stand on the preservation of Confederate monuments because the left will use Charlottesville as an excuse to remove historical monuments in Virginia,” he said.

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