- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2017

This week’s terrorist attack in New York City — carried out by an immigrant who won his spot in the U.S. through a lottery — has pushed the Virginia governor’s race onto turf claimed by Republican Ed Gillespie, who has made immigration and public safety cornerstones of his campaign.

One group of Mr. Gillespie’s opponents, the Latino Victory Fund, already has pulled down an attack ad showing a truck with a Gillespie bumper sticker stalking children on a sidewalk — eerily similar to Tuesday’s attack in which a man mowed down people on a bike path in New York.

For his part, Mr. Gillespie steered clear of politics, tweeting he was “sickened and heartbroken by NYC terror attack” and “praying for victims and families.”

But his campaign and GOP leaders in Virginia have blasted Democratic opponent Ralph Northam for the Latino Victory Fund ad, demanding he criticize the progressive group.

The Northam camp distanced itself from the ad after it was yanked, saying their candidate wouldn’t have run it and wants to elevate the campaign’s tone.

Political analysts said if anybody stands to gain from the horrific events, it would be Mr. Gillespie, who has invested millions of dollars on ads painting Mr. Northam, the lieutenant governor, as weak on illegal immigration, crime and gangs affiliated with MS-13.

“The terror attack in New York certainly raises the profile of public safety and immigration issues — ones emphasized by Gillespie in this campaign,” said Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government of George Mason University in Virginia.

He said he didn’t see the attack as playing a major role but said it does put more of a focus on crime and safety.

Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics said it is hard to handicap how the New York tragedy would affect the election because turnout tends to be low in off-years and most voters already were locked onto a candidate.

“Maybe it coaxes a few voters in Gillespie’s direction who were maybe on the fence,” Mr. Skelley said. “It is just difficult to say how many people are on the fence at this point. Honesty there are not a lot of people who are going to change their mind.”

Polling suggested Mr. Gillespie was gaining ground before the attack.

A Washington Post-Schar School poll released this week showed Mr. Gillespie had sliced Mr. Northam’s lead among likely voters from 13 percentage points last month to 4.

Voters also said they place more trust in Mr. Gillespie on issues related to crime and public safety and more trust in Mr. Northam on issues of race.

In the homestretch of the campaign, Mr. Northam, Mr. Gillespie and aligned groups have gone increasingly negative, playing into the notion that voters are more motivated to vote against rather than for someone.

Mr. Gillespie and his allies have tied Mr. Northam to MS-13 gang violence, illegal immigrants and a child porn collector. Mr. Northam and his allies have tied Mr. Gillespie to white nationalists and President Trump, whose approval rating is underwater in Virginia.

Both sides have accused the other of misleading voters and embracing fear-mongering tactics.

Things got uglier this week after the Latino Victory Fund, an immigrant rights group, released their controversial “American Nightmare” ad, sparking a fierce backlash from Republicans and earning Mr. Northam a tongue-lashing from The Washington Post editorial board, which previously endorsed him.

John Whitbeck, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said the New York attack helped to underscore the heinous nature of the LVF television ad, which he said has energized Gillespie backers who are sick of being put down for their views.

“If you express a concern for public safety of any kind, whether it is restoration of voter rights of sex offenders, MS-13 or immigration, [Mr. Northam] labels you a racist,” Mr. Whitbeck said. “So I think [the attack] probably does have some impact.”

Mr. Northam’s campaign, though, said Mr. Gillespie’s attacks were “racial appeals” that have “stoked fear among Hispanic immigrants.”

“He turned on the stove and now the water is boiling over,” said Northam campaign spokesman David Turner.

Mr. Gillespie is facing a headwind from news earlier this week that one of Mr. Trump’s campaign officials pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and two other top officials — former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Richard Gates — were charged with conspiracy against the U.S., money laundering and tax evasion.

“People that are alarmed by the swamp of Washington that created Paul Manafort have to be alarmed by the fact that the same swamp created Ed Gillespie,” said Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson. “They are not two peas in a pod, but they are certainly two creatures of the swamp and voters who see the Manafort news are just reminded of who Ed Gillespie has been throughout his career.”

The Post poll showed that half of likely voters said their views of Mr. Trump played an important role in their decision-making, and close to 6-in-10 respondents said they disapprove of Mr. Trump’s job performance.

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