Monday’s New York Times featured a prominent story by reporter Jonathan Martin on how Republicans are closing the gap in the Virginia governor’s race thanks to “racially tinged” tactics inspired by Donald Trump. Martin’s story, “Trump’s Agenda Moves to Fore as a Race Tightens in Virginia,” led the paper’s National section, and the editors gave it the full-page treatment with the help of two large photos (that bland headline concealed the bias).
Virginia’s Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie has made headway by attacking his Democratic rival Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam for refusing to prohibit sanctuary cities in Virginia, revitalizing the murderous Central America-based street gang MS-13. Martin was not happy with the success of that attack, and neither was the editorial page.
Propelled by demographic changes that are turning Virginia into an increasingly blue state and a liberal base energized by the convulsive Trump presidency, Democrats have long been favored to retain the governorship here when the state goes to the polls on Tuesday.
But a racially tinged, divisive campaign by the Republican nominee, Ed Gillespie, who has transformed himself from establishment fixture to culture warrior, has tightened the race and, perhaps, presented a template for how to run a state campaign in the Trump era.
And while he is still favored to win, Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam, the Democratic candidate, is under duress from both his Republican opponent and his own left flank in ways that could foreshadow his party’s challenges in next year’s midterm races.
Mr. Gillespie, who just a decade ago warned his party against the “siren song” of weaponizing immigration, has poured millions into racially tinged television ads and mailings that excoriate Mr. Northam on that issue, as well as Confederate monuments, the restoration of felons’ rights and even football players who kneel during the national anthem.
This onslaught over issues of culture and identity, a mix of the Trumpian tactics of today with the unvarnished appeals from the past in a state defined by race since Jamestown, has appalled Democrats in Virginia and beyond.
The gut-punch approach has left even some Republicans wincing over the spectacle of a former Republican National Committee chairman and New Jersey native trying to win with earnest vows to guard emblems of the Lost Cause and with warnings about menacing Hispanic gangs.
Yet Mr. Gillespie’s strategy has brought him within a few points of Mr. Northam in both public and private polling. A New York Times Upshot/Siena College poll, released on Sunday, showed Mr. Northam with just a three-point lead over Mr. Gillespie, 43 percent to 40 percent.
Even when Martin does discuss a far more offensive anti-Republican ad in paragraph 13, he portrayed them as an inevitable reaction to Republicans’ dirty tactics.
Democratic officials have been especially troubled as their ostensible allies have responded with ham-handed scare tactics of their own and demanded that their candidates reject any policies that carry even the whiff of Trumpism.
In an attempt to stir nonwhite voters, and draw attention from the news media and would-be donors, a liberal Hispanic advocacy group released an ad last week depicting a man in a pickup bearing a Gillespie sticker speeding after panicked children of color. The group, the Latino Victory Fund, pulled the commercial down after the deadly truck attack in New York, but not before offering Republicans a rallying cry to motivate their base and forcing Mr. Northam to distance himself from the spot.
Still, Martin tried to turn the onus of offensiveness back onto the GOP.
At a get-out-the-vote rally Saturday for Mr. Gillespie and the Republican ticket in Fairfax County, a suburb of Washington that is Virginia’s most populous locality, speaker after speaker inveighed against the racially motivated ad, while avoiding any mention of their own standard-bearer’s appeals.
A photo caption revealed more “tinge”: “A racially tinged campaign by the Republican nominee, Ed Gillespie, has tightened the race and, perhaps, presented a template for how to run in the Trump era.”
Again, Martin suggested the offensive Democratic ad was merely a response to the Republicans:
While the displays of umbrage illustrated how desperate Republicans are to seize any opening, the dust-up illustrated the determination of some liberals to fight fire with fire, even if it creates a mess for their nominee.
Martin does raise some general concerns about the left’s ideological straitjacket, albeit starting in paragraph 19:
Also worrisome to Democratic strategists was how some elements of the left reacted when Mr. Northam indicated in an interview last week that he would sign a law banning sanctuary cities, localities that offer a blanket of protection from federal immigration authorities....The fratricide illustrated how, as Democrats become more organized around their own identity politics, it is growing ever more difficult for their candidates to stray from the liberal line on any issue that veers toward race.
Martin made a sotto voce prediction of Democratic victory, because of Trump:
What ultimately may save Mr. Northam on Tuesday, though, was captured by another speaker in Arlington, among the most liberal jurisdictions in the state. “I don’t know about you, but the funk that I have been in since Nov. 8 of last year, it still hasn’t worn off,” said Christian Dorsey, a member of the County Board.
Monday’s lead editorial was related, and proved again that the Times will never, ever forgive George W. Bush for running the Willie Horton ad: “Willie Horton, Updated.”
In the close Virginia governor’s race, an ad for the Republican candidate, Ed Gillespie, links the Democrat, Ralph Northam, to a sanctuaries-cities policy that “let illegal immigrants who commit crimes back on the street, increasing the threat of MS-13.”
This is the same editorial page that on November 1 invoked the spectre of Nazism against Republicans in an editorial defending special counsel Robert Mueller from Republicans, which began, “And then they came for Robert Mueller.”