If you’ve been following the red-hot Virginia governor’s race, which culminates on November 7, you probably know that Republican Ed Gillespie has been running some savage, borderline-racist ads. One salvo accuses Democrat Ralph Northam of supporting “sanctuary cities” who don’t cooperate with federal immigration enforcement, thereby encouraging the violent Central American–based MS-13 gang, which has been active recently in Northern Virginia.
That’s more than a bit of a stretch, particularly since the whole basis of the attack on Northam was his vote against a bill banning sanctuary cities that State Senate Republicans contrived to make into a tie earlier this year so that the lieutenant governor would have to go on record about it. There are no sanctuary cities in the state, as Northam has repeatedly pointed out in justifying his “no” vote. That was also the basis for Governor Terry McAuliffe’s veto of the bill once Republicans all voted for it and passed it without Northam’s assent.
But dishonest or not, the attacks on sanctuary cities and MS-13 may have worked. A recent Monmouth University poll that gave Gillespie a one-point lead after trailing Northam all year showed likely voters favoring the Republican on the crime issue by a 40/24 margin — up from 35/27 in September. And there’s also evidence that race-tinged cultural issues generally have energized the GOP’s conservative base without unduly alarming Democrats or swing voters. The Washington Post credits Gillespie with having “threaded the needle” with his abrasive ads.
So it’s not surprising Northam has moved, albeit tardily, to try to neutralize the whole immigrant-crime line of attack by “clarifying” that he’d support a ban on sanctuary cities if any actually existed in the state — which again, isn’t the case today and wasn’t when he voted against the earlier ban.
This repositioning, of course, is earning him fresh attacks from his opponent and from conservatives everywhere; Breitbart News says he’s “cracked under pressure” and then flip-flopped. But if any undecided voters are paying attention at this late date, the facts are both candidates are now on record opposing sanctuary cities. Those who fear that Northam’s position will discourage minority voters should reassure themselves with the fact that the Gillespie campaign has engaged in race-baiting on issues beyond this one. Voters will most certainly be able to tell them apart.