Pres­i­dent might hit trail to lift Gille­spie

‘Se­ri­ous talks’ un­der­way for a Trump rally in Va. be­fore gu­ber­na­to­rial vote

The Washington Post - - METRO - BY LAURA VOZZELLA

rich­mond — A for­mer chair­man of Don­ald Trump’s Vir­ginia cam­paign said Thurs­day that the White House is in “very se­ri­ous talks” with Ed Gille­spie’s gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign about hav­ing the pres­i­dent stump for him in the state.

A Trump rally could fire up Trump sup­port­ers for Gille­spie, a long­time Re­pub­li­can Party fix­ture who has strug­gled to find the right foot­ing re­gard­ing the anti-es­tab­lish­ment Trump.

A Trump ap­pear­ance could pose risks for Gille­spie in pur­ple Vir­ginia, where Trump’s ap­proval rat­ings are well be­low 40 per­cent. Hil­lary Clin­ton beat Trump by five points in Vir­ginia last year — the only South­ern state won by the Demo­crat.

Most pub­lic polls show Gille­spie tied or slightly trail­ing the Demo­crat, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam.

The White House and Gille­spie cam­paign are in “very se­ri­ous talks” about such a pres­i­den­tial ap­pear­ance as a means of boost­ing the Re­pub­li­can’s chances in his neck-and-neck race against Northam, said John Fred­er­icks, a con­ser­va­tive ra­dio host.

He an­nounced that plans were in the works on his show Thurs­day morn­ing and later elab­o­rated in an in­ter­view with The Wash­ing­ton Post.

“The days of Ed Gille­spie thread­ing the nee­dle with Pres­i­dent Trump are com­ing to an

end,” Fred­er­icks told The Post. “And he’s got to get on stage with him, and mo­ti­vate Trump vot­ers to get out on Novem­ber 7th in huge num­bers, en­thu­si­as­ti­cally, to sup­port this Re­pub­li­can ticket if he’s go­ing to win.”

The Northam cam­paign an­nounced Wed­nes­day that for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama will ap­pear at a rally with Northam in Rich­mond next week, up­ping the ante for Trump.

“Obama’s com­ing. They’ve got to counter it,” Fred­er­icks said.

Fred­er­icks, who was co-chair­man and later chair­man of Trump’s Vir­ginia cam­paign, said he has heard from “mul­ti­ple sources” that the White House and Gille­spie cam­paign are “try­ing to get a date for the pres­i­dent to come to Vir­ginia,” most likely at the end of the cam­paign.

A few hours later on Twit­ter, Fred­er­icks clar­i­fied he was talk­ing about a “po­ten­tial” Trump rally and his in­for­ma­tion was “not sourced from any of­fi­cial in the Gille­spie cam­paign.”

White House spokes­woman Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said there were “no plans that I’m aware of at this time.”

Gille­spie spokesman David Abrams said only this: “We do not dis­cuss cam­paign strat­egy with the me­dia.”

Vir­ginia is hold­ing the only com­pet­i­tive statewide elec­tion in the na­tion on Nov. 7, an elec­tion that both ma­jor par­ties see as a test of elec­toral pol­i­tics in the Trump era and a hint of what may come in the 2018 midterms.

A for­mer chair­man of the Re­pub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee, Wash­ing­ton lob­by­ist and ad­viser to then-Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, Gille­spie has been un­com­fort­able with any as­so­ci­a­tion with Trump even as he has re­cently launched ads about il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and Con­fed­er­ate stat­ues that could ap­peal to the pres­i­dent’s sup­port­ers.

Repub­li­cans have not won a statewide elec­tion in Vir­ginia since 2009. Gille­spie needs sup­port from both Trump vot­ers as well as in­de­pen­dents to have any chance of over­com­ing the ad­van­tage Northam has in pop­u­lous, heav­ily blue North­ern Vir­ginia.

Gille­spie avoided men­tion­ing the pres­i­dent dur­ing the GOP pri­mary in the spring, which he nearly lost to Corey A. Stewart, a bom­bas­tic cam­paigner who ran in the anti-es­tab­lish­ment Trump mold and lam­basted Gille­spie as “Es­tab­lish­ment Ed.”

Im­me­di­ately af­ter the pri­mary, the White House po­lit­i­cal team urged Gille­spie to hire Trump strate­gists and em­brace is­sues that res­onate with Trump vot­ers. Gille­spie brought on at least one Trump strate­gist and started talk­ing about the dan­gers of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and the need to pre­serve Con­fed­er­ate stat­ues. The cam­paign, not­ing that crime is a peren­nial GOP elec­tion theme and polls show a ma­jor­ity of Vir­gini­ans do not want the stat­ues re­moved, con­tend those po­si­tions ap­peal to swing vot­ers as much as the Trump base.

Still, when the pres­i­dent en­dorsed Gille­spie via tweet last week, the can­di­date did not retweet or even ac­knowl­edge it un­til re­porters asked him about it the fol­low­ing day. Gille­spie said he did not con­sider the pres­i­dent’s en­dorse­ment of a fel­low Re­pub­li­can news­wor­thy.

Gille­spie has been more com­fort­able with Vice Pres­i­dent Pence, a per­sonal friend for sev­eral years, who will fly to ruby red South­west Vir­ginia on Satur­day to head­line a cam­paign rally for him. On the same day, for­mer vice pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den is ap­pear­ing in North­ern Vir­ginia with Northam.

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