Gillespie, with a sunny, almost Reaganesque disposition, offers a dire warning: Virginia needs to make some big changes — starting with across-the-board tax cuts. That hasn’t really worked out well for Kansas, where the Republican governor tried the same thing — and the results were so disastrous that the Republican state legislature has now reversed them. Still, Gillespie’s point is: What we’re doing now isn’t working, and we need to do something different.
Northam makes the case that Virginia —under McAuliffe — has laid the foundation for future growth, with investments in things such as the Virginia Tech School of Medicine and Research Institute that are just now starting to pay off. Indeed, the latest figures show that in the first quarter of 2017 Virginia’s economy — which had been stalled — now has one of the fastest-growing in the country. That’s a pretty good talking point.
Northam’s biggest problem is a Democratic Party that is trending further leftward, and may be unenthused about their candidate’s inherent moderation. Northam is hardly a tax-and-spend Democrat: Some of his signature proposals involve cutting taxes. He wants to do away with the sales tax on groceries and wants to waive certain taxes on businesses in rural areas. He’s shown more interest in rural Virginia than many Democrats do these days, although not necessarily the hot-button issue his base wants him to: Natural gas pipelines.
Gillespie is for them; Northam is neutral, but that neutrality outrages many environmentally-minded voters who want a Democratic candidate to oppose them outright. Northam faces the risk that some of those voters will simply stay home. By contrast, his recent call for Confederate statues to come down may energize liberal Democrats, but risks a backlash from other voters. Polls show voters want statues to stay. John Fredericks, a conservative radio talk show host, has pointed out that Gillespie almost lost the Republican nomination over Confederate statues yet now might win the election because of them.
The Democrats may have picked a losing issue attacking Virginia history as a political plank. While the vast majority of Virginians are horrified by the populist-inspired White Nationalists, the Democrats have been unsuccessful at painting these wackos as a Republican problem. Most Virginians understand the truths and contexts of the Civil War and view their monuments, not as a celebration of Southern Generals and Confederate Presidents, but as simply markers of history. I have no doubt that monuments will be brought up at Thursday’s debate.