Virginia Slim: Could A Right-Wing Minion Win the Old Dominion?

If Ed Gillespie pulls off the upset, it could have major consequences for 2018.

If Ed Gillespie pulls it off, you know they’ll be lighting the tiki torches again.

The thought of a race-baiting Republican (is there any other kind?) winning the Virginia gubernatorial race mere months after Heather Heyer gave her life fighting the extremists that Republican has been pandering to should shock the conscience—yet such an event could indeed happen on November 7, in part due to the public’s apparent lack of interest in the contest:

Virginians speak of being exhausted by events. They say that they have only so much bandwidth and that President Trump takes up most of the space they allot to politics. They say they haven’t heard much about the governor’s race in the news, which seems devoted mainly to the president’s doings and sayings.

As the nation’s only competitive statewide contest this year, the Virginia race has been viewed by people in the politics business as a crucial bellwether, an early measure of whether voters are motivated to push back against an unpopular president or double down on their drive to disrupt Washington and “drain the swamp.”

But far fewer Virginia voters are closely following the campaign than at similar stages in the past three gubernatorial elections, according to Washington Post polling.

Even those who might be assumed to be searching for a way to send a message about a president they consider inept or dangerous say they are paying little attention to the Virginia race.

It’s a profound shame, since Gillespie apparently conducted a few seances with the late Lee Atwater prior to running his sleazy campaign. Gillespie believes that he can win by convincing the more gullible members of the Virginia electorate that if Democratic opponent and current Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam wins on the 7th, lethal Latino lawbreakers will lacerate little Larry and Leslie in Lynchburg. Gillespie clearly has no shame, but that’s par for the course in his party.

If Gillespie’s tactics are successful, expect this strategy to be replicated by the Republicans in 2018, even in so-called blue states. The Trump-Gillespie-Bannon strategy could even stop cold the momentum towards Medicare for All: right-wingers won’t hesitate to run commercials suggesting that Bernie Sanders and fellow Medicare for All backers “want you to foot the bill to provide health care for MS-13 gangbangers.”

Speaking of Sanders, Paul Krugman recently noted that “[f]or whatever reason, however, Virginia isn’t getting nearly as much play in national media or, as far as I can tell, among progressive activists, as it deserves.” One obvious (and obviously sad) reason why this race seems not to have captured progressive attention is that Northam beat the Sanders-backed Tom Perriello in the Democratic primary, and the soldiers who fought in last year’s “political revolution” apparently view Northam as more drowsy than woke. One wonders if Sanders’s strongest supporters actively want Northam to lose in order to send a message to members of the “Democratic establishment” that backed Northam: you won’t get our support if you don’t nominate our people.

If Gillespie wins, look for him to reverse as much as possible of current Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe’s accomplishments (especially on climate), and look for him to be just as shady as the last Republican who bamboozled his way into the Executive Mansion, Bob McDonnell. The Confederate crowd will be cheering, just as they were the night Trump won the Electoral College. A Gillespie win will also be a massive propaganda triumph for right-wing media, which will proclaim that the Resistance had itself been resisted. On the 7th, will we witness an outcome this twisted?

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.