Vir­ginia gover­nor’s race is how pol­i­tics should be

The Progress-Index - - OPINION -

An en­cour­ag­ing as­pect of Vir­ginia’s gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion this fall is the ci­vil­ity of the two can­di­dates, Repub­li­can Ed Gille­spie and Demo­crat Ralph Northam. So far, at least, in pinch-me-I-may-be-dream­ing con­trast to so many re­cent state and con­gres­sional cam­paigns around the coun­try, the race, fea­tur­ing a pair of un­der­stated mod­er­ates, has been par­ti­san but not per­sonal, and de­ter­minedly non-in­cen­di­ary.

The vi­o­lence last month in Char­lottesville was a lit­mus test of sorts, which both can­di­dates passed. Speak­ing about it the other day at an NAACP- spon­sored fo­rum in Rich­mond, both men de­nounced the racists and neo-Nazis who had pa­raded through the streets. Northam also ex­plic­itly de­plored Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s mealy­mouthed at­tempt to equate the white su­prem­a­cists with the coun­ter­protesters who chal­lenged them.

Although Gille­spie avoided crit­i­ciz­ing Trump by name, he made it clear that his view di­verged from the pres­i­dent’s. “If you be­lieve that one race is su­pe­rior to an­other, or that one re­li­gion is su­pe­rior to an­other and its be­liev­ers, that’s worse than im­moral,” he said. “That is de­hu­man­iz­ing, and that is the pres­ence of evil in our world. And we have to re­ject it.”

Gille­spie’s re­marks were in keep­ing with his at­tempts to dis­tance him­self from Trump, whom he en­dorsed last year but whose name he has gen­er­ally avoided men­tion­ing ever since. While he has urged back­ers to rally to his cam­paign “if you agree . . . that [Con­fed­er­ate] stat­ues should stay right where they are and we should teach his­tory NOT erase it,” he has also sought to dis­tin­guish con­ser­vatism gen­er­ally from the more sin­is­ter and overtly racist groups that con­sti­tute part of Trump’s hard­core base of sup­port.

“They called them­selves the ‘alt-right,’” he said of the Char­lottesville marchers. “They are not on any le­git­i­mate po­lit­i­cal spec­trum of left to right. If on a scale of one to 10 — one is the most lib­eral, and 10 is most con­ser­va­tive — th­ese peo­ple are a yel­low. They’re not on the same con­tin­uum.”

Northam and Gille­spie have also staked out roughly sim­i­lar views on “dream­ers,” il­le­gal im­mi­grants brought to Amer­ica as chil­dren by their par­ents. Both men fa­vor al­low­ing them to re­main in the coun­try, although Gille­spie, a long­time ad­vo­cate of im­mi­gra­tion re­form that would pro­vide le­gal sta­tus for mil­lions of un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants, re­frained from crit­i­ciz­ing Trump for scrap­ping the Obama-era pro­gram that granted dream­ers pro­tec­tion from de­por­ta­tion. Northam, along with Democrats and some Repub­li­cans, de­plored the pres­i­dent’s move, which he said “lacks com­pas­sion, lacks moral sense and lacks eco­nomic sense.”

The rel­a­tive ab­sence of bombthrow­ing be­tween the can­di­dates, de­spite their dif­fer­ences, re­flects Vir­ginia’s sta­tus as a cen­trist state, di­vided be­tween Demo­crat­i­clean­ing ur­ban and sub­ur­ban ar­eas and heav­ily Repub­li­can ex­ur­ban and ru­ral ones. Ex­trem­ists tend to fare poorly in statewide races. And while nei­ther Gille­spie nor Northam has shied away from par­ti­san jabs, it’s been re­fresh­ing that most of those jabs have landed well above the belt.

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