Identity Politics Take Center Stage in Tight Virginia Gubernatorial Race


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Once again, the Democrats called out the big political guns in a race the pundits said would be a landslide.

Just one year ago, Hillary Clinton called on President Barack Obama and a who’s who list of African-American elites to rally the party’s black voters to support her lackluster candidacy.

As President Obama stumped for Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) in the state’s upcoming gubernatorial contest, history is repeating itself.

Virginia — once a solid red state — has not elected a statewide Republican in eight years. With less than a week before Virginians decide, based on the most recent Quinnipiac poll, the race seems to be splitting for Northam. But studying polls from the 2016 presidential race teaches us the GOP base should not be underestimated and the Democratic based should not be ignored.

Northam’s inability to seal the deal without calling on the celebrity of Obama should show Democrats once and for all the chasm between the establishment and its more-unorthodox left wing. Northam is the establishment’s choice, beating out Tom Perriello, the more left-leaning candidate supported by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and his acolytes.

Unfortunately, as the race grows tighter, both candidates will be tempted to dust off the tried-and-true strategy of identity politics.

Northam has spent a lot of television airtime accusing Republican nominee Ed Gillespie of being a racist. The ads largely focus on Gillespie’s plan to deport members of the MS-13 criminal gang. I have followed Gillespie’s career and work since his days as chairman of the Republican National Committee, and my general observation is that he is in fact not a racist. The accounts of friends, both black and white who know him personally, balk at the charge.

Therein lies the problem. Democrats are able to lob racial assaults at Gillespie in these final days because of his deafening or rather delayed silence on denouncing white supremacists in Charlottesville. When Gillespie did speak out on Charlottesville and race relations, he said all the right things.

It is ridiculous to have to assert it repeatedly, but as long as Democrats make the charge, the GOP must continue to repeat the stand made at their August meeting in Nashville, “Nazis, the KKK, white supremacists and others are repulsive, evil and have no fruitful place in the United States.”

This must be repeated because the uncomfortable truth is the GOP final-days playbook sometimes requires good candidates to close their eyes, hold their nose and hope that nobody notices that the white supremacists are voting for the Party of Lincoln.

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