RICHMOND, Va. — If you’re looking for one race this fall to tell you what people make of the first year of the Trump presidency, your best bet is the Virginia governor’s race where next week, voters will choose between Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie.
The race has long looked like Northam’s to lose.
He’s better known than Gillespie (Northam is the sitting lieutenant governor) and Virginia has been moving to the left, rapidly, over the last few elections; Hillary Clinton won it in 2016 and Barack Obama won it in 2008 and 2012.
But a new Washington Post poll shows Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, closing a 13-point gap earlier this month to just five points with seven days of campaigning left.
Gillespie has tightened the race despite the fact that President Donald Trump’s popularity is in the tank in Virginia, with almost six in 10 Virginians (59 percent) disapproving of the way Trump is handling the presidency.
A majority of voters — 57 percent — say that Trump is an “important” factor in their votes, with 38 percent saying the President is a “very” important factor in deciding their vote.
Those numbers — Gillespie’s and Trump’s — suggest voters aren’t blaming the former for their negative views of the latter.
Which is interesting given that Gillespie is closing the contest with a pair of Trump-like messages: Expressing his support for keeping Confederate statues in place and warning of the threat posed by the MS-13 gang.
If Gillespie is able to win — and while he has the momentum, he’s still behind — it will go a very long way to calming Republicans nervous about the potential of an unpopular President costing them their seats in 2018.
Of course, if Gillespie does win, it will be by riding a very Trumpian message.