Virginia Democrats' mailer on Trump, Gillespie, Charlottesville

Republican nominee for governor Ed Gillespie’s campaign cried foul Tuesday over a new Democratic mailer linking him to the “hate” recently displayed by white nationalist groups in Charlottesville. Democratic candidate Ralph Northam’s campaign stood by the ad, saying Gillespie has refused to push back against President Donald Trump’s assertions that “both sides” shared blame in the violent Charlottesville clashes.

Ralph Northam, the Democratic nominee for governor, on Wednesday stood by a Democratic mailer that ties Republican Ed Gillespie and President Donald Trump to white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville.

“Ed Gillespie has had over 70 days to denounce the president of this country for not calling these white supremacists out for who they are, and I would hope that he would come forward and do that,” Northam said in an interview Wednesday during a campaign stop on the pedestrian mall in Winchester.

“Because the message is that we live in a very diverse society. That means that we need to be inclusive. We need to welcome people. Our lights need to be on, our doors open. We don’t promote hatred and bigotry in this country and in the commonwealth of Virginia.”

Virginia Democrats, who have decried Gillespie’s ads that portray Northam as soft on the street gang MS-13, issued a mail piece that superimposes images of Trump and Gillespie over a photo of torch-wielding white nationalists marching in Charlottesville in August. The message says Virginia voters have a chance to “stand up to hate” in the Nov. 7 election.

The back of the mailer features a photo of the Democratic ticket — Northam, lieutenant governor nominee Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring. The message on the back says that in the election voters can “stand up to Trump, Gillespie and hate.”

Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, swiftly denounced the white nationalist rally and the racist groups’ torch-lit rally at the University of Virginia the night before. He issued a statement the morning of the Aug. 12 rally, before news came of the afternoon fatalities of counterprotester Heather Heyer and two Virginia State Police helicopter pilots.

“Having a right to spew vile hate does not make it right,” Gillespie said in the statement. “It is painful to see these ugly events in Charlottesville last night and today. These displays have no place in our commonwealth, and the mentality on display is rejected by the decent, thoughtful and compassionate fellow Virginians I see every day.”

On Tuesday night, Gillespie’s campaign accused Democrats of exploiting the August tragedy and called on Democrats to pull the mailers.

In the interview Wednesday, Northam criticized the tenor of Gillespie’s campaign, particularly the Republican’s ads that say the Democrat’s policy positions would aid MS-13.

“I’ve been a doctor talking care of sick children and families for over 25 years, a veteran of the U.S. Army,” Northam said.

“To say that I support gangs, especially with my record in the Senate, making penalties tougher for gang members — one, it’s inaccurate, and two, it’s despicable and it needs to stop.”

In his monthly “Ask the Governor” radio appearance Wednesday on Washington’s WTOP radio, Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, said he had not seen the mailer, but he appeared to equate the hatred expressed at the Aug. 12 rally in Charlottesville with the tone of Gillespie’s campaign.

Asked whether the mailer was out of bounds, McAuliffe said: “I think the hatred and bigotry that we saw — and I personally saw firsthand — of the hatred, the white supremacists, the KKK, the ‘alt-right,’ is the same divisive Trump politics that Ed Gillespie is doing in his ads today. There is no difference. They are bringing hatred, fear, bigotry to our state.”

McAuliffe added: “You ought to run for governor and tell me what you are going to do,” rather than running “divisive” ads against Northam.

John Whitbeck, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, said in a statement Wednesday that the “Northam hate mailer” goes too far.

“Long after Ed Gillespie called out the barbaric, ignorant racists who invaded Charlottesville, Ralph Northam and his team are attempting to smear a good man with their reprehensible hate.”

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acain@timesdispatch.com (804) 649-6645 Twitter: @AndrewCainRTD

Staff writer Graham Moomaw contributed to this report.

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