RICHMOND, Va. — With just one week left until the Nov. 7 gubernatorial election, tensions are high in the hotly-contested race between Republican Ed Gillespie and his Democratic opponent Ralph Northam, as each makes their final push for a place in the Governor’s Mansion.
Large discrepancies in several of the major polls have led to a great deal of uncertainty about the election’s outcome. In a sit-down interview with VCU’s iPadJournos reporting project for WTVR.com, Gillespie said he was confident in his campaign’s chances, despite what some polls might say.
“I think we’re gonna win this race,” Gillespie said. “I think people realize these public polls are not worth very much. I don’t think they’re designed to measure the outcome of a race, they are designed to affect the outcome of a race.”
A Quinnipiac University Poll released Monday showed Northam leading his Republican opponent by 17 percentage points. In a separate poll released by Hampton University last week, Gillespie lead the race by eight points.
"I think Virginians are increasingly aware of that," he added. "It's kind of cliche, but it's true -- the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day -- and I sense incredible intensity and energy and enthusiasm among my voters and supporters."
With President Donald Trump’s approval rating among Virginians at 34 percent, an all-time low according to the same Quinnipiac poll, Gillespie said he’s focused on the issues. That’s despite receiving what was perhaps the president’s biggest endorsement of the Republican nominee to date when Trump twice tweeted in support of Gillespie last Thursday.
"I appreciate the President supporting me,” Gillespie said, “but I’m not surprised the Republican president is endorsing the Republican nominee for governor in Virginia, just as I'm not surprised Hillary Clinton -- the Democratic nominee for president -- had an event for Ralph Northam and is supporting him. I think it would be news if he weren't.”
But despite Trump’s endorsement, Gillespie has rarely brought up the president while out on the campaign trail. The former RNC chairman said he preferred to focus more on what was going on in Virginia, rather than at the White House.
“I’m responding to what voters talk to me about,” Gillespie said. “(That’s) jobs and economic opportunity, roads, schools, opioids and heroin, and people want to know what are you gonna do to make our lives better if you’re elected governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Those are the issues that I hear about everyday on the trail.”
Although there have been rifts within the Republican Party between President Trump and several Republicans in Congress, Gillespie said Virginia’s Republicans were united in their support for his campaign.
“Our party is unified behind me, and (Northam’s) party is unified behind him,” Gillespie said. “That's the nature of the electorate as you get closer to Election Day -- people tend to come home. The fact is I enjoy a lot of support in our party -- and I'm proud of that -- but more important is the support I get from independents and open-minded Democrats.”
Throughout the campaign, Gillespie has received criticism from both sides of the political spectrum. His critics on the right have said Gillespie is too “establishment” due to his ties with former President George W. Bush, while opponents targeted the time he spent as a lobbyist on Capitol Hill.
Gillespie said those experiences have helped prepare him to become Virginia’s 73rd governor.
“I think I bring a fresh perspective,” Gillespie said. “I think the experience I've had in the private sector on Capitol Hill and in the executive branch at the White House, both the national and the state party -- all those things I think help inform me and those experiences will help make me an effective governor for those I seek to serve.”
With Virginia joining New Jersey as one of just two off-year gubernatorial races, the election will provide unique insight into the country’s current political climate. Political analysts believe the results in Virginia will help set the tone for next year’s congressional midterm elections.
Watch the full VCU iPadJournos interview with Ed Gillespie:
Also read the coverage by the VCU iPadJournos on the Oct. 19 rally of Democratic candidate Ralph Northam with former President Barack Obama.
EDITOR’S NOTE: WTVR.com has partnered with the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students from the project reported this story.