Race for GOP nom­i­na­tion heats up

Three vie for Repub­li­can gu­ber­na­to­rial nod in de­bate at Lib­erty Univer­sity

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY DAVID SHERFINSKI

Ed Gille­spie on Thurs­day worked to side­step charges from his Vir­ginia GOP gu­ber­na­to­rial ri­vals that he’s a flip-flop­ping ca­reer party in­sider, pledg­ing to run a cam­paign in 2017 that will make Repub­li­cans proud and say­ing he’ll be a gov­er­nor for “all Vir­gini­ans.”

Mr. Gille­spie, Prince Wil­liam County Board of Su­per­vi­sors Chair­man Corey Ste­wart, and state Sen. Frank Wag­ner faced off in a Repub­li­can de­bate at Lib­erty Univer­sity in Lynch­burg, Vir­ginia, ahead of a June pri­mary elec­tion.

Mr. Ste­wart re­ferred to Mr. Gille­spie, who has been lead­ing in re­cent polls on the GOP field, as a “30-year lob­by­ist from Wash­ing­ton, D.C.,” and said he’s changed his past po­si­tions on is­sues like il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

“In front of a Repub­li­can crowd here, Ed says one thing. But when he’s in front of a gen­eral elec­tion, as he was in 2014, he was say­ing a to­tally dif­fer­ent thing,” Mr. Ste­wart said.

Mr. Gille­spie lost to Sen. Mark R. Warner in a close U.S. Se­nate race in Vir­ginia in 2014.

“As he was sup­port­ing amnesty, I was de­port­ing crim­i­nal il­le­gal aliens and tak­ing the grief for it,” said Mr. Ste­wart, who has helped pass tough poli­cies on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion in his county.

Mr. Gille­spie, a for­mer Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee chair­man, re­sponded by telling peo­ple to visit his own web­site “and Google ‘Corey Ste­wart lies.’”

He said his record on the is­sue has been “con­sis­tent” and said he ac­tu­ally op­posed a plan from Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush in 2006 to al­low for cit­i­zen­ship for cer­tain il­le­gal im­mi­grants. Mr. Gille­spie is also a for­mer ad­viser to Mr. Bush.

“I have al­ways op­posed amnesty,” he said. Mr. Wag­ner, mean­while, de­scribed Mr. Gille­spie as a “24-carat, gold-plated Wash­ing­ton in­sider.”

In gen­eral, though, Mr. Gille­spie re­frained from re­spond­ing di­rectly to such pot­shots and spent much of his time dur­ing the hour-long de­bate talk­ing up his own plans, in­clud­ing a tax plan he says will cre­ate more than 53,000 jobs in the com­mon­wealth.

He closed by pledg­ing to run a cam­paign “that makes us all proud” and said he’d im­prove pub­lic schools and trans­porta­tion and tackle prob­lems in­volv­ing heroin and opi­oid abuse.

Mr. Ste­wart closed by paint­ing him­self as a win­ner who’s not afraid of con­fronta­tion.

“When oth­ers talk, I de­liver,” Mr. Ste­wart said, tout­ing his ex­pe­ri­ence cut­ting spend­ing and crack­ing down on il­le­gal im­mi­grants dur­ing his time in Prince Wil­liam.

Mr. Ste­wart also served as Pres­i­dent Trump’s Vir­ginia state chair­man but was fired in Oc­to­ber af­ter par­tic­i­pat­ing in a protest out­side Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee head­quar­ters. He also ran un­suc­cess­fully for the GOP nom­i­na­tion for lieu­tenant gov­er­nor in 2013.

Mr. Wag­ner, mean­while, urged lis­ten­ers to put his re­sume up against those of his two ri­vals.

“Read the re­sumes: a D.C. in­sider. A lawyer,” Mr. Wag­ner said. “Or a Naval Academy grad­u­ate with real busi­ness ex­pe­ri­ence who’s worn a hard­hat all his life … and some­one with the ex­pe­ri­ence in Rich­mond to move this state for­ward.”

Mr. Wag­ner, a state sen­a­tor who rep­re­sents parts of Vir­ginia Beach, has served in the state leg­is­la­ture as a sen­a­tor and as a mem­ber of the House of Del­e­gates for more than 25 years.

Mr. Gille­spie has been lead­ing in re­cent polling on the GOP pri­mary can­di­dates. He had 28 per­cent sup­port to Mr. Ste­wart’s 12 per­cent and Mr. Wag­ner’s 7 per­cent in a Quin­nip­iac poll re­leased this week, though more than half of Repub­li­can vot­ers said they were still un­de­cided.

Mr. Gille­spie, Mr. Ste­wart, and Mr. Wag­ner are look­ing to hand the GOP its first win in a ma­jor statewide elec­tion since 2009, when Repub­li­cans swept the gov­er­nor, lieu­tenant gov­er­nor, and at­tor­ney gen­eral races.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Demo­crat, is pro­hib­ited from seek­ing a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive term.

In 2013, Mr. McAuliffe helped break a decades­long streak of Vir­ginia vot­ers pick­ing a gov­er­nor be­long­ing to the op­po­site party of the in­cum­bent U.S. pres­i­dent.

Mr. McAuliffe is sup­port­ing Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who is bat­tling for­mer Rep. Tom Per­riello to be the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Repub­li­can gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date, Corey Ste­wart (cen­ter) ges­tures dur­ing open­ing state­ments as State Sen. Frank Wag­ner, left, and Ed Gille­spie lis­ten dur­ing a de­bate at Lib­erty Univer­sity in Lynch­burg, Vir­ginia on Thurs­day. Mr. Gille­spie is the cur­rent leader among the three GOP can­di­dates-- he’s polling at 28 per­cent.

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