Tuesday’s gubernatorial election in Virginia is shaping up to be a nail-biter. While Democrat Ralph Northam, at times up by double digits, initially appeared the likely winner, the Las Vegas shooting, an ill-considered and grotesque attack ad by the Northam-supporting Latino Victory Fund, and recent revelations from former DNC chair Donna Brazile are likely to impact both voter turnout and late deciders.

The potential for a GOP win is not insignificant.

Polls

Recent polls vary, with one poll showing Republican Ed Gillespie with a three point lead and another showing Northam with a three-point lead Real Clear Politics’ average currently has Northam in the lead by 1.9 points.

https://realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2017/governor/va/virginia_governor_gillespie_vs_northam-6197.html

A local poll conducted by Roanoke College had the race tied as of Friday, November 3rd and contains an interesting breakdown of voter preference by the issues.

With just days remaining in the campaign, Democrat Gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie are tied (47%-47%), while Libertarian Cliff Hyra garners three percent of likely voters, and only three percent remain undecided, according to The Roanoke College Poll. The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research interviewed 781 likely voters in Virginia between October 29 and November 2 and has a margin of error of +3.5 percent.

. . . .  Both Gillespie (45%-35%) and Northam (38%-36%) are viewed more favorably than unfavorably by voters. Hyra remains largely unknown with 84 percent of respondents not knowing enough about him to have an opinion.

The economy and health care continue to dominate as the most important issues in the campaign. Economic issues (jobs, growth, etc.) are seen as most important by 20 percent of respondents with another seven percent saying taxes and one percent referencing debt. Health care was named as the most important issue by 16 percent of likely voters, while education was thought to be most important by 10 percent.

Interestingly, Gillespie leads Northam on all issues except (unsurprisingly) healthcare and education.  Here’s the breakdown from the Roanoke poll:

Which candidate would do a better job on the issues?

Ed Gillespie

• Economy: 47%
• Healthcare: 37%
• Jobs: 44%
• Immigration: 44%
• Education: 40%
• Taxes: 47%
• Guns: 45%

Ralph Northam

• Economy: 39%
• Health Care: 49%
• Jobs: 40%
• Immigration: 39%
• Education: 46%
• Taxes: 37%
• Guns: 39%

With Gillespie’s stronger support on guns and immigration, the recent Democrat push for gun control in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting and their increasing openness about the Democrat preference for open borders and protecting illegal aliens may work against them in this race.

Factors Affecting the Race: Guns

Last month, we noted that the gun-grabbing clamor from Democrats in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting was likely to play a key role in the Virginia governor race.

While Virginia is hardly West Virginia (where Senator Joe Manchin (D) famously shot the cap and trade bill in a campaign ad), it’s not exactly anti-gun deep blue, either.  Virginia is an open carry and reciprocal concealed carry state.  So the right of Americans to own guns may be a defining factor as Virginians head to the polls next month.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has more on gun rights becoming key in the Virginia governor’s race.

. . . . Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam called the shooting a “terrorist attack” and reiterated his calls for tighter gun restrictions. Republican Ed Gillespie, whose promises to preserve gun rights have earned the endorsement of the National Rifle Association, called the violence an “act of evil,” but did not weigh in on the question of whether the latest tragedy should compel new approaches to gun policy.

. . . . Northam has advocated for universal background checks, an assault weapons ban and reinstating Virginia’s former law limiting handgun purchases to one per month. Democrats have introduced a variety of gun control bills in recent General Assembly sessions, but the Republican-controlled legislature routinely blocks efforts to add new restrictions on the purchase and possession of firearms.

Gillespie has vowed to “defend and advance” gun rights. In its August endorsements, the NRA’s Political Victory Fund called Gillespie “a strong supporter of our constitutional rights who will stand up to Michael Bloomberg and his out-of-state gun control groups.”

Factors Affecting the Race: Illegal Immigration

Another key issue in this race has been illegal immigration, including the dangerous MS-13 gang and sanctuary city policy.

Fox News reported on October 30th:

Gillespie’s efforts to link Democratic rival Ralph Northam, the state’s lieutenant governor, to sanctuary cites is part of Gillespie’s large effort to portray Northam as soft on crime. He has made the case in debates and a barrage of TV ads that the policy of protecting illegal immigrants from federal immigration officials has helped spur the rise of the violent Central American gang MS-13.

“MS-13 is a menace, yet Ralph Northam voted in favor of sanctuary cities that let dangerous illegal immigrants back on the street, increasing the threat of MS-13,” the narrator says in one ad.

. . . . The Northam campaign has used its own TV ads to fight back against Gillespie’s efforts to tie its candidate to violent Latino gangs like MS-13 and sanctuary cities, saying the connection is “not true.”

The Gillespie ads about Northam’s support for sanctuary city policies prompted Northam to state that he would support a ban on them and that should such a bill make its way through the Virginia legislature and to his desk, he would sign it.

This prompted outrage from progressives and resulted in a prominent Democrat PAC dropping him.

The National Review reports:

The bad news keeps rolling in for the Ralph Northam campaign this week. On Thursday night, the progressive PAC Democracy for America (DFA) announced it will cease doing “any work to directly aid” the Northam campaign as the clock ticks down to Election Day in Virginia’s gubernatorial election.

The PAC — which has close to 42,000 members in Virginia — never formally endorsed Northam, but it has included his campaign in grassroots, get-out-the-vote efforts since he won the Democratic nomination this summer. No longer.

. . . . [Y]esterday evening after Northam flip-flopped on sanctuary cities, suddenly announcing that, if a Virginia city attempted to declare itself a sanctuary for illegal immigrants, he would as governor support legislation preventing that city from doing so.

. . . . from yesterday’s DFA statement:

However, after seeing Northam play directly into the hands of Republicans’ racist anti-immigrant rhetoric on sanctuary cities, we refuse to be . . . even remotely complicit in the disastrous, racist, and voter-turnout-depressing campaign Ralph Northam appears intent on running. . . .

Let’s be really clear: If Ralph Northam wins next Tuesday, it won’t be because he publicly backtracked on his commitment to protecting immigrant families, but in spite of it.

The Gillespie campaign also handled, quite masterfully, the horrendously vile Latino Victory Fund ad by accurately noting that the attack was not on him but on the people of Virginia.

The Washington Post reports:

Republican gubernatorial contender Ed Gillespie launched a new ad Thursday blasting a commercial that briefly aired against him as painting his supporters as racists, whipping up conservative rage online and the airwaves and directing it at the Democrat.

. . . . Gillespie’s ad is a response to a commercial from the Latino Victory Fund (LVF) where a pick-up truck sporting a Confederate flag and Gillespie bumper sticker pursues a group of minority children. Officials at the fund said the ad was meant to portray the current climate of fear that Latinos and Muslim communities are experiencing.

. . . .  Gillespie’s response commercial features Fox News hosts denouncing the LVF ad. It includes clips of three groups of staid white people as the text on the screen reads “Liberal Ads Portray Gillespie Voters As Racists.”

“Ralph Northam doesn’t just disagree with the millions of Virginians that don’t share his liberal policy agenda,” Gillespie says in one clip used in the ad. “He disdains us. It’s an attack on all Virginians.”

While the original Latino Victory Fund ad has since been pulled, its affects are being felt in Virginia, hurting Northam not Gillespie, to such an extent that Politico has published an article attempting to downplay the well-deserved backlash by asserting it is driven by bots.

Twitter bots are swarming into the Virginia governor’s race and promoting chatter about a racially charged Democratic ad days before Election Day, according to a report commissioned by allies of Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam’s campaign.

The activity centers on an ad from Latino Victory Fund, depicting a child’s nightmare in which a supporter of Republican Ed Gillespie chases immigrant children in a pickup truck bearing a Confederate flag. Gillespie’s campaign reacted furiously to the ad, which barely ran on TV but got major attention online, and has made backlash to the Democratic ad a major part of its closing message.

That backlash erupted quickly, and Latino Victory Fund later retracted the ad. But the reaction has been amplified on Twitter by automated accounts. Out of the 15 accounts tweeting most frequently about the Latino Victory Fund ad, 13 belong to fully or partially automated bots, according to an analysis from Discourse Intelligence. (The other two accounts are Republican political operatives.)

Factors Affecting the Race: Brazile Bombshells

Recent bombshells from former DNC chair Donna Brazile are also likely to affect Tuesday’s vote.

Appearing on MSNBC’s Meet the Press Daily, current Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe (D) said that the timing of Brazile’s revelations is “regrettable” and “very bad timing” in light of Tuesday’s election.

The Washington Free Beacon reports:

McAuliffe appeared on MSNBC’s “Meet the Press Daily” Friday to promote Democratic gubernatorial nominee Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and his own work as governor of Virginia. But at the end of the interview, host Chuck Todd pivoted toward controversy at the DNC, which Brazile brought to light in an article Thursday.

“You’re a former DNC chair, I got to ask you—and you’re obviously very close friends to the Clintons. I know where you stand from the primary,” Todd said.

“The allegation Donna Brazile made that the DNC was basically in the tank in some form or another—and we can discuss how much—for Hillary Clinton throughout the primary season: fair charge?” Todd asked.

McAullife avoided addressing the allegation, but he emphasized that Brazile chose to come forward at a time when Democrats have a “big election” to retain the Virginia governorship.

“I don’t know the specifics of the actual agreement,” McAuliffe said. “It’s regrettable that Donna (Brazile) thought this was the time that she should come out with this complaint. I mean, God love the Democratic Party. But we need—”

“This pretty bad timing for Tuesday?” Todd asked.

“Very bad timing. And you know, just regrettable,” McAuliffe said. “I wish all of these folks who are talking about this would focus—we have a big election on Tuesday.”

. . . . “This will be a repudiation of Trump,” McAuliffe added. “This will be a continuation of great progressive policies.”

Democrats Tempering Expectations

While it’s not at all clear who will win on Tuesday, it is interesting to note that Democrats are concerned.  In an indication of Democrat worries about Gillespie pulling out a win, this race has moved from a “must win” for Democrats to “not the only race we’re focused on.”

The Washington Examiner reports:

Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez is confident the party will hold on to the Virginia governorship, but with the race closer than national Democrats would like, he tried to downplay any fallout if Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam loses.

“Virginia has a history of close races,” Perez said. “It’s a state where you’re always going to have close statewide elections, and this is no different.”

Perez pointed to other races within the Virginia House of delegates as an example of the “new DNC” which is focused on tickets up and down the ballot.

“Virginia is one race we’re focused on, but it’s not the only race we’re focused on,” Perez added, referring to Northam’s bid. “We don’t put our hopes on any one state at any one time — we’re investing everywhere.”

This is a far-cry from Democrats seeing Virginia as a “must-win” when Northam was up 17 points.

Real Clear Politics reported in their mid-October article entitled “Democrats See Virginia Governor Race as a Must-Win”:

Democrats may have focused millions of dollars and mountains of energy on special congressional elections this year — to no avail — but keeping their hold on the Virginia governor’s mansion next month is arguably more significant to a party aiming to rebuild from the ground up after 2016.

. . . . But Virginia is often seen as something of a harbinger, however imperfect, of the political climate to come. Thus, Democrats are pulling out all the stops.

Former Vice President Joe Biden was dispatched to the state over the weekend to underscore the stakes. During small gathering of activists and business leaders in Northern Virginia — a quickly diversifying and densely populated area outside the Washington Beltway where Democratic candidates need to run up their margins — Biden made the case.

“The only hope for leadership we have is at the state level,” Biden said in Reston. A win, he said, would “give people hope we are not falling into this know-nothing pit.”

Virginia was key to the Democrats’ winning coalition at the presidential level in 2008 and 2012. When Obama carried the state in ’08, he became the first Democrat to do so in over four decades. The commonwealth also served as one of the few bright-spot battlegrounds for Hillary Clinton, who carried it last year by five percentage points, outperforming her national numbers.

Considering the many factors affecting this race, it will be interesting to see whom Virginians elect as their next governor.  Will Virginians stick with a Democrat, electing their current Lieutenant Governor, or will they give the Republican a try?