Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins 88.9 WCVE’s Craig Carper for this week’s political analysis. Topics include the debate in Northern Virginia between Ralph Northam and Ed Gillespie, John Warner’s backing of Gillespie, and last weekend’s pro-confederate rally in Richmond.
CC: From WCVE News in Richmond, I’m Craig Carper. Joining me now from the Richmond Times-Dispatch is political columnist and WCVE’s political analyst, Jeff Schapiro. Jeff, good morning.
JS: Hi there Craig.
CC: Jeff, I believe the first rule of debates for candidates is don’t make news. How did Ed Gillespie and Ralph Northam do this week?
JS: It was skimpy on news, if you’re referring to the debate between the aforementioned candidates. They appeared in McLean in Northern Virginia, the seat of the state’s tech industry. You know, we reporters, when it comes to debates, are sort of like NASCAR fans. You know, you go to the track hoping that someone is going to have a wreck. (laughing) That was not the case this past Tuesday. Now there were a couple of interesting wrinkles though. At one point in the debate Ed Gillespie was asked his position on Graham-Cassidy. This is the latest effort by Senate Republicans to scuttle Obamacare. And he said that he was against it, because it could penalize, financially penalize the state. But following the debate in that press scrum that often follow debates, he walked that back. Ralph Northam was perhaps a little softer, a little squishier in his position on removing Confederate monuments. You will recall that Northam and Gillespie had very similar positions. They argue that this is a decision that should be made by local governments. And there are some legal questions associated with that could come up later in this debate. But then Northam said if he were making the calls, he’d take them down, and he ratcheted it up again, by saying, well, as governor he would use the full weight of his office to see that these monuments are toppled. Well, during the debate he tried to backtrack a bit, emphasizing that these ultimately, he believes, will be the call of local government, or in the case of his alma mater, VMI, its governing body, the Board of Visitors, which recently affirmed that it’s going to preserve its Confederate statuary, in contrast with the decision announced by the UVA Board of Visitors that it’s going to begin to take down some of these Rebel icons.
CC: Former U.S. Senator John Warner, who served for decades in the upper chamber, and in recent years has backed Democrats for office, is this time backing Ed Gillespie in the race for governor.
JS: Remember John Warner, who is certainly the embodiment of the Republican Establishment, is, you know, given to these Independent impulses, and that means he’s supported some Democrats and some Independents. Among the Democrats he’s supported, Mark Warner. When running for reelection in 2014 to the U.S. Senate race, he barely won against Ed Gillespie. So now Ed is, Ed Gillespie, excuse me, is counting on John Warner’s support. This is a signal to moderate Republicans that it’s okay to support Ed Gillespie for governor. A lot of moderate Republicans, actual and default Republicans, have been straying from the party because they’re disappointed and discomfited by the selection of candidates. Most recently that would be Donald Trump for the Presidency and in 2013 Ken Cuccinelli for governor. So this is an endorsement that is perhaps going to be helpful in some of those Clinton-carried corners of the state. That might include some of the suburbs of Richmond.
CC: And Northam and Gillespie both running controversial ads dueling over the airwaves now.
JS: Yes, and we’re at that point in the campaign in which the candidates, for the most part, are going to have total control of their message. There will be one more debate in early October in far southwest Virginia, but this is that point in the campaign in which the storytelling, if you will, is the candidates and the candidates alone. Gillespie is going after Northam again on sanctuary cities, suggesting that the Democrat supports allowing local government to shelter illegal immigrants from arrest and prosecution by federal border authorities. The ad in question focuses largely on the idea that somehow Northam would be turning a blind eye to violence by illegal immigrants, in particular immigrant gangs, such as MS 13, that violently prey on Virginians, so Gillespie would argue. And by week’s end there was a good deal of debate, over not only some of the points made in that ad, whether they were factual, but whether some of the images supporting the ad were factual. Northam is going after Gillespie in a fresh commercial for his work as a lobbyist for allegedly sketch interests, and this would include, you know, so-called predatory lenders and, of course, Enron, that gone bust energy giant. This is a reminder to voters, not just Democrats, but Trump Republicans who might be suspicious of Gillespie, that he’s very much a product of that Washington swamp that the President has vowed to drain.
CC: And Jeff, there was a collective sigh of relief on Monument Avenue at the conclusion of two competing noisy, but non-violent rallies, one calling for the preservation of the Lee monument, the other calling for its removal.
JS: And of course this big police presence on Monument Avenue, state police, Richmond city police, the Capitol police, largely a response to the violence in Charlottesville. There was great concern from Richmond City Hall that the bloodshed that was seen in Charlottesville might be repeated in Richmond. That was not the case. The pro-Confederate protestors were vastly outnumbered by the counter-protestors. In fact, some of these neo-Confederates were actually run off by counter-protestors. There were fewer than ten arrests, and though the event was relatively quiet, even the worst fears that folks here in Richmond had, this event, none the less, keeps alive this increasingly loud debate over Confederate monuments.
CC: And Jeff, all 100 seats of the Virginia House of Delegates are up for election this year. We wanted to highlight some of the more interesting races, including one in Prince William where long-time conservative Republican delegate, Bob Marshall, is being challenged by a transgender woman, a Democrat, Danica Roem.
JS: Yes, you know, there’s a big push by the Democrats to make inroads in this lopsidedly Republican House of Delegates. There are 66 Republican-held seats, and Democrats are challenging just over 50 of them. The one race that seems to be generating a good deal of attention beyond Virginia is that Prince William race between Bob Marshall and Danica Roem. Danica Roem is a former newspaper reporter. She is running well ahead of her fellow Democrats in fundraising. Among Democratic challengers, she has collected more than $200,000. It’s interesting that Bob Marshall, who among other things wrote that now overturned ban on same-sex marriage in Virginia, is refusing to debate Roem. He does not want to give her any more prominence than she already has. It’s important to point out that Bob Marshall is very much a survivor, and he’s been holding on to his seat again and again in an increasingly blue county, in large part because of his emphasis on constituent services and not those hot button issues that you and I report on time and time again.
CC: Thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Jeff, we will catch up again next week.
JS: Good weekend to you.