Elec­tion re­flec­tions

GOP cam­paign leader says Repub­li­cans will face ‘chal­lenge’ in 2018

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - NATION & WORLD - BY GRA­HAM MOOMAW gmoomaw@times­dis­patch.com (804) 649-6839 Twit­ter: @gmoomaw

Cam­paign man­agers speak.

Cam­paign man­agers for Demo­cratic Gov.-elect Ralph Northam and his de­feated Repub­li­can ri­val Ed Gille­spie both said Mon­day that they didn’t ex­pect the wave of op­po­si­tion to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to be as in­tense as it was in Vir­ginia’s gov­er­nor’s race.

“Good luck,” Gille­spie cam­paign man­ager Chris Leav­itt said at a post-elec­tion panel Mon­day night when asked what Vir­ginia’s re­sults might mean for Repub­li­cans run­ning in the 2018 midterms. “Be­cause it’s go­ing to be a chal­lenge. In Wash­ing­ton, there has to be some things that get done for vot­ers.”

Northam cam­paign man­ager Brad Ko­mar said Northam’s 9-point win over Gille­spie was partly the re­sult of a co­or­di­nated mo­bi­liza­tion of mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties, younger vot­ers and col­lege-ed­u­cated subur­ban white vot­ers. But the Trump ef­fect on turnout sur­prised even the Northam strate­gists who were re­ly­ing on con­ser­va­tive polling mod­els that showed Northam with leads rang­ing from one to four points.

“I didn’t see the wave in June. I saw it three days be­fore­hand,” Ko­mar said at the event hosted by the non­profit Vir­ginia Pub­lic Ac­cess Project at Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity’s Schar School of Pol­icy and Gov­ern­ment.

Northam, the sit­ting lieu­tenant gov­er­nor, de­feated Gille­spie, a GOP strate­gist and po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant, by a sur­pris­ingly wide mar­gin of nearly 54 per­cent to 45 per­cent in last week’s gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion to suc­ceed out­go­ing Gov. Terry McAuliffe next year. Lib­er­tar­ian Cliff Hyra fin­ished a dis­tant third, re­ceiv­ing just over 1 per­cent of the vote.

Democrats swept all three statewide races, win­ning elec­tions for lieu­tenant gov­er­nor and at­tor­ney gen­eral in ad­di­tion to Northam’s vic­tory. Though fi­nal vote counts are still be­ing tab­u­lated, Democrats also ap­pear to have flipped 15 seats in the 100-mem­ber House of Del­e­gates, a shock­ing re­sult that wiped out what had been a 66-34 Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity. Repub­li­can lead­ers have claimed they’ll hold onto a 51-49 ma­jor­ity, but re­counts and pos­si­ble lit­i­ga­tion in sev­eral close races could change the out­come.

The on­stage meet­ing be­tween Ko­mar and Leav­itt, both of whom had worked for their re­spec­tive bosses in ear­lier statewide races, was largely civil. The most im­pas­sioned point of dis­agree­ment came when the con­ver­sa­tion turned to the at­tack ads that dom­i­nated the lat­ter part of the cam­paign.

Ko­mar said he dis­agreed with the “both sides” premise of a ques­tion from mod­er­a­tor Mark J. Rozell, dean of the Schar School at GMU, say­ing the Northam cam­paign didn’t go as “vit­ri­olic” as its ri­vals.

“I don’t be­lieve that the En­ron Ed ad was the equiv­a­lent of putting Gen­eral Lee on TV,” Ko­mar said, re­fer­ring to Northam’s ads spot­light­ing Gille­spie’s ca­reer his­tory as a lob­by­ist.

Leav­itt de­fended his cam­paign’s de­ci­sion to run ads fo­cused on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, specif­i­cally the Latino gang MS-13, and Con­fed­er­ate stat­ues, say­ing the ads were driven by “polling and data” show­ing those mes­sages would help Gille­spie sway in­de­pen­dents.

“These were pol­icy dif­fer­ences,” Leav­itt said. “En­ron Ed is a per­sonal at­tack on some­one.”

Pressed on why Northam didn’t do more to dis­tance him­self from a con­tro­ver­sial ad from the Latino Vic­tory Fund show­ing a pickup truck with a Con­fed­er­ate flag and a Gille­spie bumper sticker chas­ing down mi­nor­ity chil­dren, Ko­mar said the Latino com­mu­nity wanted to “coun­ter­at­tack” af­ter Gille­spie’s MS-13 ads.

“I think that there were more ef­fec­tive ways that could be edgy with­out do­ing that,” Ko­mar said. “But we did not au­tho­rize it.”

Ex­plain­ing the Gille­spie cam­paign’s de­ci­sion to not in­vite Trump to Vir­ginia to stump for Gille­spie, Leav­itt said his team didn’t want to “na­tion­al­ize” the race by shift­ing fo­cus away from state pol­icy is­sues and onto the pres­i­dent.

“Pun­dits can com­ment on that and how that worked out one way or the other,” Leav­itt said. “At the time, it seemed like the right path.”

The “Trump­ism with­out Trump” strat­egy didn’t work for Gille­spie, Ko­mar said, be­cause it made Gille­spie sound like he had dif­fer­ent an­swers on Trump de­pend­ing on the day.

“Whether he showed up or not, I don’t know if that re­ally had as much of an im­pact as just the fact that it was al­ways a ques­tion,” Ko­mar said. “Any day you’re on of­fense in the news cy­cle is a good day.”

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