- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2017

Aiming to slow Ed Gillespie’s momentum in the final days of the GOP gubernatorial primary in Virginia, Corey Stewart is warning that a vote for the former adviser to President George W. Bush would be a devastating blow against the grass-roots movement that gave rise to President Trump.

State Sen. Frank Wagner, meanwhile, is attacking him from another angle, telling voters that his resume is stronger than Mr. Gillespie’s. Mr. Wagner accuses Mr. Gillespie of offering “pie-in-the-sky” proposals that would hurt the Old Dominion if they ever came to fruition.

Mr. Gillespie has been viewed as the front-runner in the race for months, polling ahead of his arrivals since he joined the race. Voters go to the polls Tuesday to settle the matter.

Political observers say Mr. Gillespie is benefiting from greater name recognition and statewide connections he built up during his 2014 campaign for U.S. Senate.

“That has given him a huge advantage amongst Virginia Republicans compared to a state senator and a county government official who represent small slivers of the state,” said Stephen J. Farnsworth, a political science professor at Mary Washington University. “When you have been consistently behind and you need to figure out a way to make up for lost times, you are really are having to do one of the last things you want to have to do in politics. If the message you have offered over the last six months has not gotten voters excited, there is not a lot you can do over the last six days.”

Mr. Gillespie’s spokesman David Abrams said his boss is not taking anything for granted and is sticking with an optimistic message.

“Ed will continue to run a positive campaign, focused on putting forward detailed policies that will spark economic growth and create new, good-paying jobs for all Virginians,” Mr. Abrams said. “With support from 67 of 87 Republican members of the General Assembly, more than 1,250 coalition members across 35 different coalition groups, and over 6,000 volunteers statewide, Ed’s vision of a thriving Virginia continues to resonate across the Commonwealth.”

In his final primary ad released this week, Mr. Gillespie laments that too many Virginians can’t find good-paying jobs because of lackluster economic growth on Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s watch, and vows to cut taxes and spending.

But his primary opponents say more is on the line than replacing a Democrat in the governor’s mansion.

“Virginia Republicans need a fighter,” said Mr. Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors and a former chairman of Mr. Trump’s state campaign. “They need someone who is not going to back down. They are sick and tired of the wishy-washy, weak-kneed, establishment Republicans who don’t stand for anything.”

He said he’ll tell voters over the final days that a Gillespie victory “would mean that the Trump revolution stopped in 2016.”

Mr. Wagner, meanwhile, says his experience as Navy veteran, owner of a shipyard business and lawmaker makes him better equipped for the job than Mr. Gillespie.

“I have 25 years experience in the General Assembly. Ed Gillespie has nothing,” he said. “I cannot name one thing that he has done in Virginia. If you want a D.C. insider that has been up and D.C. and has no clue what is going on in Virginia, he is your guy.”

Mr. Wagner favors a gas tax increase to pay for road and infrastructure improvements, and has criticized his rivals for pushing tax plans that rely on overly optimistic revenue projections that would add to the state’s fiscal woes.

“My definition of conservative is someone who pays their bills, gets their fiscal house in order, and has a rainy gay fund,” he said. “My other two opponents’ definition of conservative is ‘I am going to propose pie-in-the-sky tax cuts regardless of the impact of state’s finances, regardless of impact on the retirement fund and regardless of the impact on the state’s bond rating.”

The GOP nominee will go up against the winner of the Democratic primary race between Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former Rep. Tom Perriello, who have called Mr. Trump as a “narcissistic maniac” and cast him as tyrant, as they look to score points with progressive activist that have risen up against the president.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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