- The Washington Times - Monday, October 9, 2017

WISE, Va. — Republican Ed Gillespie cast DemocratRalph Northam as weak on immigration in their third and final debate, raising questions about Mr. Northam’s commitment to cracking down on “sanctuary cities.”

The debate here at the University of Virginia Wise largely centered on how the candidates planned to boost local economies and improve local schools in rural areas.

But when the candidates were given the chance to question each other, Mr. Gillespie, who is playing catch up in polls, called on Mr. Northam to clear the air on whether he’d sign legislation as governor targeting localities if they throw up roadblocks to the deportation of illegal immigrants on his watch.

Mr. Northam said he opposes “sanctuary cities,” and said he would give law enforcement officials the resources needed to combat crime.

He also said the problem does not currently exist in Virginia — putting him on the same page as Mr. Gillespie, but at odds with the Trump administration, which this year identified at least two localities in Virginia as sanctuaries for refusing to fully cooperate with deportations.

Mr. Northam, however, passed on the chance to clarify how he would handle future legislation aimed at combating sanctuaries if they become a problem.

“I have made it clear that I support local law enforcement, I don’t support sanctuary cities, we don’t have sanctuary cities,” Mr. Northam said.

Mr. Gillespie said Mr. Northam’s stance jeopardizes the safety of Virginia residents, including immigrant communities that he said are most often targeted by violent gangs like MS-13.

“We cannot allow for the establishment of sanctuary cities, and you won’t even say that you would ban them after the fact, and I think that is a concern,” Mr. Gillespie said.

The exchange came toward the end of an hourlong debate.

Cliff Hyra, the Libertarian candidate, was not invited to attend.

The forum afforded Mr. Northam and Mr. Gillespie an opportunity to reach out to voters in this corner of the state, where Donald Trump dominated in his presidential race against Hillary Clinton last year — though she still carried the state thanks to strong support from the more urban areas.

Voters will elect a new governor next month.

Mr. Northam said he wants to build on the economic success that Gov. Terry McAuliffe has had as governor, while Mr. Gillespie said Virginia has taken a step back during the Democrat’s four years in the governor’s mansion.

Mr. Northam and Mr. Gillespie both vowed to address the epidemic of opioid addiction, to expand broadband into the area, and to boost teacher pay. They agreed more money should be invested into UVa. Wise, arguing that the university could serve as a hub for economic growth in the area.

Both candidates weighed in on gerrymandered congressional and legislative districts. Mr. Northam said he would support the formation of a nonpartisan commission tasked with drawing the state’s legislative lines. Mr. Gillespie said he is open to the idea but would like to see an example outside of Iowa where that sort of thing has worked.

Mr. Northam, meanwhile, played up Mr. Gillespie’s background as a lobbyist and warned that Mr. Gillespie’s plans to revive the area would not be financially viable because his tax plan would blow a hole in the state budget.

“Your economic plan, a tax cut for the wealthy at the expense of the working class, puts a hole of $1.4 billion in our budget,” Mr. Northam said. “So I don’t know how you are going to pay our teachers more at the same time [you] put a hole in our budget.”

Mr. Gillespie said Mr. Northam’s analysis of his tax plan, which he described as a tax cut for all, is wrong.

“He doesn’t oppose the tax cuts because they are tax cuts for the rich; he opposes them because they are tax cuts,” he said.

When Mr. Gillespie attacked Mr. Northam for being a no-show at commission meetings where issues of importance to the region would be addressed, Mr. Northam hit back by contrasting his background as a pediatric neurologist, former Army doctor and elected leader in Virginia with Mr. Gillespie’s background as a Washington lobbyist.

“I have showed up for Virginia and I have been proud to do so, and I guess while I have been showing up and serving the commonwealth of Virginia, you’ve been a K-Street lobbyist in Washington,” he said. “The only time you have showed up is when you get paid, so there is a big difference between the two of us.”

Mr. Gillespie said he left the lobbying firm a decade ago and that perhaps it’s good that Mr. Northam didn’t fulfill all his duties as lieutenant governor given his ideological bent.

“Maybe it is just as well given that you are for higher taxes and I am for lower taxes, and for more regulations and I am for fewer regulations,” he said.

Mr. Northam has held a steady lead in the polls. The Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University released a survey on Monday that showed the Democrat up 7 percentage points over Mr. Gillespie among the state’s likely voters.

Mr. Gillespie, meanwhile, is still in striking distance. Analysts say his recent attacks against Mr. Northam are aimed at energizing grass-roots conservative activists as well as chipping away at Mr. Northam’s support in Northern Virginia — particularly in Loudoun County, which Mr. Gillespie won in his failed 2014 Senate bid race against Mark R. Warner, and Prince William County, where the issue of immigration has been at the forefront of the political discussion for years.

The Wason Center for Public Policy poll showed the issue of immigration resonates among Mr. Gillespie’s supporters, with a third of his supporters “agreeing or strongly agreeing that illegal immigration is a problem where they live” compared with 6 percent of Mr. Northam’s backers.

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