- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2017

Republican gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie barnstormed across Virginia on Monday in a final get-out-the-vote push, while President Trump was on the other side of the globe in Asia.

It was uncanny symbolism for two men whose electoral fates are somewhat linked but who have been worlds apart for most of the campaign in Virginia, where voters go to the polls Tuesday.

Mr. Gillespie has kept Mr. Trump at arm’s length, viewing the commander in chief as a liability in the blue-trending commonwealth — the only Southern state he lost in last year’s presidential election.

Democrats, meanwhile, have been desperate to tie the two men together, hoping Mr. Trump would drag down Mr. Gillespie and, at the same time, damage the president with a Republican loss.

“With the White House and hard-line conservatives selling him out, it’s clear Gillespie’s tightrope walk fell flat,” said Jared Leopold, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association. “But Virginia voters know that Gillespie won’t stand up to Trump’s dangerous policies and has run a campaign pulled straight from the Trump playbook.”

Voters will have the final say Tuesday, with the governorship, lieutenant governorship, attorney general and House of Delegates races on the ballot.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s successor also will be selected. Democrat Phil Murphy heads into Election Day with a solid polling edge over Republican Kim Guadagno, the state’s lieutenant governor.

In Virginia, Mr. Gillespie is facing off against Ralph Northam, the current lieutenant governor, to succeed Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat who is term-limited.

And Mr. Trump’s shadow looms large.

Democrats say Mr. Gillespie “sold his soul” to Mr. Trump by tacking toward the president’s policies, only to have Mr. Trump largely sit out a race that he came to view as unwinnable.

Republican observers, though, say it was Mr. Gillespie, a former lobbyist, Republican Party chief and top adviser to President George W. Bush who kept Mr. Trump at arm’s length. They say he viewed the president as too much of a liability to bring into the state.

“I think they decided early on to walk a tightrope between needing Trump supporters and not wanting to incite moderate Democratic Northern Virginia voters to turn out to stop Trump from doing whatever they think he is going to do,” said John Fredericks, a conservative radio talk show host and co-chairman of Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign in Virginia.

A spokesman for the Gillespie campaign declined to comment.

Mr. Trump weighed in on the race Monday via Twitter, saying “the state of Virginia economy, under Democrat rule, has been terrible.”

“If you vote Ed Gillespie tomorrow, it will come roaring back!” Mr. Trump told his 40 million followers.

Before that, Mr. Trump’s biggest foray into the race came via Twitter last month, when he attacked Mr. Northam on immigration and told Virginians to “vote Ed Gillespie!”

The Northam camp pounced on the Gillespie endorsement, blasting out a fundraising email that said Mr. Trump was going to bat for his “favorite lobbyist in Virginia.”

Mr. Gillespie downplayed the tweet, telling reporters he learned of the endorsement over his phone.

Mr. Fredericks said Mr. Gillespie’s decision to keep Mr. Trump at arm’s length had backfired. But he noted that the Republican nominee was bailed out late last month when the Latino Victory Fund, an immigrant rights group, ran a vicious ad depicting a truck with a Gillespie bumper sticker and a Confederate flag stalking minority children.

“That Latino Victory Fund ad did more to motivate Trump voters in Virginia in five days than Ed Gillespie did in a year,” Mr. Fredericks said. “That was just a stroke of luck.”

Republican Party strategist Alex Conant agreed that the ad hurt Mr. Northam but said Mr. Gillespie deserves the lion’s share of the credit for running a strong campaign in a state that Mr. Trump lost by 5 percentage points to Hillary Clinton last year.

“I think Ed showed that mainstream Republicans can run very competitive races in states where Trump did very poorly,” Mr. Conant said. “A year ago, Trump lost Virginia by a lot, and this week it could elect a Republican governor. That is not because Trump has been such a successful first-year president who is now wildly popular and Ed is just riding his coattails — it is the exactly the opposite of that.”

Democrats said they believe Mr. Trump is dragging down Mr. Gillespie.

“I can tell you it is a big motivation for base Democrats to turn out and to stand up to the Trump agenda, and I can tell you it has made Democrats as motivated to vote as Republicans, where traditionally in 2013 and 2015 Republicans were more motivated,” said Joshua Ulibarri, a partner at Lake Research Partners and pollster for the Virginia House Democrats. “Our base is more motivated, and our base is more consolidated.”

A Fox News poll released Monday found that 69 percent of registered voters who backed Mr. Trump are interested in the governor’s race, while the remaining 31 percent have tuned it out. Clinton supporters are more tuned in, with 74 percent said they are paying attention, compared with 26 percent who said they are not.

The poll also found that 40 percent of likely voters approve of Mr. Trump and 55 percent do not.

Overall, the poll gave Mr. Northam a lead, though it had shrunk since October. It is reflected in Real Clear Politics average of polls that shows Mr. Northam up 3 percentage points.

On Monday, Mr. Northam delivered his closing argument at seven stops, stumping with fellow Democrats. Joining him were Attorney General Mark Herring and Justin Fairfax, who is running to succeed Mr. Northam as lieutenant governor.

Mr. Northam also got a boost from the party’s top statewide leaders: Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez and a pair of Minnesotans — Sen. Al Franken and Rep. Keith Ellison, who serves as deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee — joined him at an election eve party in Alexandria.

“There is so much attention on Virginia right now,” Mr. Northam told a crowd in Roanoke, according to local news reports. “We are the bellwether not only for this country but for this world. People are looking to see what direction Virginia goes in, and we’re going to make them proud tomorrow.”

Mr. Gillespie made five stops, joining forces with John Adams and Jill Vogel, the Republican nominees for attorney general and lieutenant governor, respectively. He said he is optimistic heading into Election Day.

“People are so excited about this race,” Mr. Gillespie said on Fox. “We have been gaining fast in the course of the past two weeks.”

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