- - Thursday, October 19, 2017

The public-opinion polls in the Virginia gubernatorial race are tightening. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the Democrat who had opened a comfortable lead over Ed Gillespie, the Republican, over the summer, has only a tiny lead in most polls now, and a new Monmouth survey puts Mr. Gillespie up by a point.

There’s little room for error by either candidate, and Mr. Northam has just made a doozy, perhaps a doozy of considerable size and consequence. His campaign has flooded Northern Virginia with a mailer rallying Democrats, with the name and face of his running mate airbrushed out of the picture. Justin Fairfax, the running mate, is a black man.

Mr. Fairfax would become only the second black lieutenant governor in Virginia, and the Northam campaign quickly explained that his race had nothing to do with it. Yes, of course not. Who would believe that Democrats, eager to call others racists and bigots, would do a thing like that just to win an election? Heaven forfend!

The “real” reason, Mr. Northam says, is that the labor unions put pressure on Mr. Northam to get his running mate out of the picture because he opposes construction of a pipeline across the northern part of the state that would create jobs.

Mr. Fairfax is a loyal party man and agrees that the mailer, which went only to union households, was only “a mistake.” Perhaps that’s all it was, but it suggests that Mr. Northam is willing to offend hundreds of thousands of black voters, the party’s most loyal constituency, to appease the unions and counts on black voters to forgive and forget.

Mr. Northam thought he wouldn’t have to work very hard to ride a wave of anti-Trump sentiment to office. Virginia, which was a reliable red state once upon a time, is turning a deeper shade of purple with every election cycle.

But that was then, and now he has to work hard to rally black voters who aren’t likely to believe Mr. Northam’s explanation of airbrushing his running mate out of the picture merely to satisfy another, smaller bloc of voters. Barack Obama has been recruited to ride to the rescue of a campaign suddenly in trouble.

Elections, like baseball games, are won or lost on bonehead plays. Even a candidate for garbage commissioner knows you can’t slight your most loyal constituents, even by an honest mistake, and expect to cruise to victory.

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