Trump divides hopefuls in gubernatorial primary election in Virginia.
GOOCHLAND, VA. | The front-runner for the Republican nomination in Virginia’s closely watched race for governor expressed lukewarm support for President Trump at a GOP debate Saturday in Goochland.
In a sign he may be looking past the June primary toward the general election in an increasingly Democratic-leaning state, Ed Gillespie was critical of crude comments Mr. Trump has made about women and largely shrugged off pointed questions about his loyalty to the new president.
Mr. Trump lost Virginia and no Republican has won a statewide campaign in the Old Dominion since 2009.
Corey Stewart, a conservative firebrand and former chairman of Mr. Trump’s campaign in Virginia, assailed Mr. Gillespie for being quick to condemn the Republican presidential candidate after a recording was released in which Mr. Trump boasted about groping women.
Mr. Stewart also blasted Mr. Gillespie for not campaigning in person with Mr. Trump or being part of a Virginia “leadership team” the Trump campaign announced weeks before the election that included many prominent state GOP lawmakers.
Mr. Gillespie responded that he supported “the ticket” last year and campaigned with now-Vice President Mike Pence. But he added that as a husband and father of two daughters he was offended by the comments Mr. Trump made in the 2005 Access Hollywood tape.
“I want to make sure that we try and respect all Americans,” Mr. Gillespie said, who added that Mr. Trump deserved credit for apologizing for the remarks made on the tape.
Virginia and New Jersey are the only states electing new governors this year and the contests could provide an early window into Mr. Trump’s popularity as president.
Mr. Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman and White House adviser to President George W. Bush, has a large cash advantage over his GOP rivals and has been leading in public polls.
Saturday was the last debate where all three GOP candidates were scheduled to attend. Mr. Stewart and state Sen. Frank Wagner trained much of their fire on Mr. Gillespie, saying the former high-powered Washington lobbyist was running a disingenuous campaign.
Mr. Wagner, a veteran legislator, said Mr. Gillespie had repeatedly misled voters about the potential impact of a modest income tax reduction he was proposing.
“Ed, be honest, please,” Mr. Wagner said.
And Mr. Stewart accused Mr. Gillespie of supporting government mandates on health insurance, something Mr. Gillespie denied.
“He’s been in Washington too long,” Mr. Stewart said.
Mr. Gillespie largely ignored the attacks and instead focused his criticism on Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello, the two Democrats running for governor.
Virginians can vote in either party’s primary on June 13.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie (right) argues in a Tea Party debate on Saturday with Corey Stewart (left) and state Sen. Frank Wagner (center) at Goochland High School in Goochland, Virginia. The three face off in a primary June 13.