“If that bill comes to my desk … I sure will. I’ve always been opposed to sanctuary cities. He knows that.”
– Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam,
on a Republican-backed sanctuary cities bill
I’m a history buff and I am always prodding for hints of the future by trying to look back at the past for clues. This race for Virginia governor has been interesting because both parties settled on mild-mannered political professionals who aren’t rabble-rousers and but rather competent political pros. This race is something of an oddity in this hyperventilating political age of Trump and Resistance.
Ed Gillespie seems to have broken the logjam by sprinkling some Trump dust on his campaign and pushing hard on law and order issues, particularly M3-13 crime and sanctuary cities. The sanctuary city is a particular lightning rod given President Trump’s views and actions on immigration. I, for one, was somewhat surprised that Gillespie made this move; I wasn’t sure he would. It has born fruit in the polls and he has either closed the gap or even taken the lead, depending on whom you believe.
Gillespie’s pivot on law and order and immigration dovetails back to my first point about looking back to history. Republican gubernatorial candidates in Virginia win when they find a focused message of one or two bullet points – you can look back at Bob McDonnell’s fanatical push for jobs, Jim Gilmore’s focus on the car tax and George Allen’s push for truth in sentencing laws. Losing GOP candidates do not have this kind of simple elevator pitch that their entire campaign was built around. For a time, Gillespie seemed to be closer to that latter rather than the former. His primary campaign against Corey Stewart seemed listless and without a message, he talked about multi-point plans for various issues and generally sounded like a wonk more than a communicator. But as this campaign moved forward, Gillespie found his voice and he’s found it on law and order and immigration issues – specifically the McAuliffe/Northam rights restoration, MS-13 violence, and sanctuary cities.
Northam cast the deciding vote against a GOP sanctuary cities ban back in February as Lieutenant Governor, and used that while facing a spirited progressive challenge in the Democratic primary.
Now he is saying he will sign that bill. To me, this could prove to be a momentous moment in the campaign.
I look back to history as justification. In 1997 Jim Gilmore found a sweet spot in his campaign by rallying against this infernal car tax, and at first his opponent, Don Beyer, said he was wrong. He held that conviction before he suddenly changed his mind and then tried to come out with his own plan. That showed that Gilmore was setting the agenda and tone of the race and, in trying to play catch up, Beyer all but conceded the race.
This flip-flop from Northam might be even worse. The car tax is an annoying inconvenience, but nowhere near as emotional as the immigration wars that rage around sanctuary cities, often stoked by our fiery President. Given its emotional gravity, Gillespie took a major risk making this a core part of his campaign, but it appears to be paying off.
Northam is already a candidate who seems to be a Democrat from another time, a politician better suited to the 1980s rather than the 2010s. His marriage with modern-day progressive Resistance-types has been uneasy in both style and substance. In now surrendering the sanctuary city issue, a key hot button for progressives, Northam has officially surrendered the momentum of this race and he is clearly hanging on for dear life hoping the numbers of the state hold and he can run out the clock.
Like Beyer folding under Gilmore’s pressure on the car tax, it seems Northam has folded under Gillespie’s pressure on immigration issues. It’s a hint that Ralph’s polling sees this issue connecting. Certainly the disgusting ad of a truck with Republican stickers barreling into minority children has not helped and, if anything, it has finally given the Trump-Stewart GOP voters who aren’t wild about Ed a reason to vote for him.
Then again, history has taught me another lesson: Democrats have numbers. How many times have we all sat around looking at how good things seem to be before around 10:00 pm when the slow returns from the most Democrat-rich areas of Fairfax come cascading down upon all of us? The Democrats have the numbers, Virginia is a blue state and while I think Ed Gillespie has run a masterful general election campaign thus far, I’m not sure he has done enough to overcome Ralph Northam, who has basically been playing prevent defense since the end of his primary and is just running out the clock.
We shall see, but if Ralph’s surrender on one of Gillespie’s key campaign issues tells us anything, Northam may see that the clock might be running out before November 7.