In key Virginia race, Gillespie focuses on crime and consequences

We’re following pretty closely the race for governor of Virginia. Democrat Ralph Northam, the lieutenant governor is leading Republican Ed Gillespie in the polls, but there’s evidence that the race is tight.

These days, Democrats consistently win state races in Virginia. They do so by piling up big margins in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Gillespie is targeting voters in these suburbs with aggressive advertising on television. Although Northam is said to have considerably more money on hand than Gillespie, the Republican is running many more ads in the Northern Virginia market, at least on the television shows I watch — sports and a little bit of cable news.

Many of Gillespie’s ads focus on taxation. In addition, though, he is hammering hard on matters of crime and punishment. I discussed in some detail the ad where Gillespie highlights Northam’s deciding vote in favor of sanctuary cities — a vote Gillespie says increases the threat of the gang MS-13.

MS-13 is a menace in parts of Northern Virginia.

Now, Gillespie is running an ad that slams Northam and Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe for restoring rights to violent felons and sex offenders. The ad states:

Last year, Terry McAuliffe and Ralph Northam instituted the automatic restoration of rights for violent felons and sex offenders, making it easier for them to obtain firearms and allowing them to serve on juries. One of these felons, John Bowen, had his rights restored two months after being found with one of the largest child pornography collections in Virginia’s history.

McAuliffe and Northam are crying foul. McAuliffe says the ad “a page right out of Donald Trump’s playbook” because it “is based on the same fears and same division” Trump exploited. Northam says Gillespie is lying.

McAuliffe is right. Gillespie is playing to the fears of voters, as Trump did. But that doesn’t mean the ad is unfair or that the fears are illegitimate.

As for the truthfulness of the ad, a Washington Post article, though clearly sympathetic to Northam whom the Post supports, fails to show dishonesty. It’s undisputed that McAuliffe has restored voting and other civil rights to more than 150,000 felons. The governor rather pathetically calls this “one of our greatest feats.” Northam, his lieutenant governor, unequivocally supports McAuliffe’s action.

The action does make it easier for felons, including violent ones and sex offenders, to obtain guns. In the Post’s words, it “help[s] them over the first hurdle to have their gun rights restored, although the felons still need judges to sign off.”

That’s what Gillespie’s ad says — it makes it “easier for them to obtain firearms.” I doubt I’m alone in taking only limited comfort from the fact that a judge still needs to sign off.

The crime rate appears to be rising in Virginia. For example, the state recorded 383 murders/non-negligent manslaughters in 2015. In 2016, it recorded 484. The Washington Post itself reported that in Prince William County, a little south of Washington, D.C. and its close-in suburbs, the murder rate more than doubled in 2016.

Thus, when the Post responds to Gillespie’s ads by saying Virginia’s violent crime rate “plunged by more than a third in the decade ending in 2015,” it deliberately misleads readers. What’s relevant to Gillespie’s campaign is the recent spike in violent crime, not what occurred between 2006-15.

From the standpoint of Northan and the Washington Post, the problem with Gillespie’s crime and punishment ads isn’t that they are irrelevant or dishonest. They are neither. The problem is that they have the potential to win votes, including votes in Northern Virginia.

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