Ed Gillespie’s high wire act

If this year’s Virginia governor’s race between Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam is a dress rehearsal for 2018, then next year’s congressional races should present quite a spectacle. If you don’t think so, check out this story in the Washington Post called “Bikers for Trump rallies for Gillespie — without Gillespie.”

Gillespie narrowly defeated Corey Stewart in the Republican primary. Stewart managed Trump’s campaign in Virginia for a portion of 2016. After he lost to Gillespie, Stewart declined to endorse his rival. He came around, however, after being urged to by Steve Bannon, among others.

Gillespie, meanwhile, is walking a tightrope. As the Post’s Laura Vozzella explains: “In a purple state that gave Hillary Clinton her only Southern victory last year, Gillespie needs to excite rural Trump supporters without turning off moderates and inflaming Democrats in the state’s deep-blue population centers.”

The rally for Gillespie by Bikers for Trump exemplifies the balancing act. When Stewart offered to hold the rally, Gillespie declined to attend, appearing instead with Sen. Rob Portman at an event in Northern Virginia. The rest of the Republican statewide ticket — Jill Vogel, who’s running for lieutenant governor, and John Adams, who’s running attorney general — traveled to Virginia Beach for the event, though Adams had to leave before it began because his father fell ill.

Stewart gave a fiery speech. He urged the crowd to “stand up and fight, fight the criminals, communists, crackheads and the weirdos — those are your Democrats.” Some of them, anyway.

Of Gillespie, Stewart said only that he’s “a good, strong Republican.” Indeed, Gillespie is, and this should be reason enough for Trump’s base to vote for him. We’ll see if it is.

Vogel, the candidate for lieutenant governor, is a former chief counsel to the Republican National Committee. She also served in the Bush administration. That’s pretty “establishment.” However, she displays more comfort with President Trump than Gillespie does.

In her speech to the bikers’ rally, Vogel vigorously defended Confederate monuments, smaller government, and lower taxes. Gillespie also defends the monuments, which seems to be helping with the Trulmp base, and of course he favors smaller government and lower taxes. Gillespie has also taken a hard line on criminal justice and illegal immigration, as we discussed here and here.

Given Vogel’s greater affinity for Trump, however, observers will pay much attention to how she fares in relation to Gillespie.

Vogel’s opponent is Justin Fairfax, a young African-American lawyer. Earlier this month, the Northam campaign scrubbed Fairfax’s face from a campaign mailer. One explanation offered was that Fairfax had offended certain labor-union leaders and the scrubbing of the photograph was meant to mollify big labor.

Some suggested a less generous, more politically incorrect explanation. In either case, Republicans aren’t the only ones walking a tightrope in Virginia.

Meanwhile, Democrats, and their media backers, are examining the bikers’ rally, especially Stewart’s speech, looking for offensive statements to pin on Vogel and, if possible, Gillespie. They seem to be seizing on this statement by Stewart about a Democratic candidate for the House of Delegates:

He was Dan Roem. Now it’s Danica Roem. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Kevin Donohoe, a spokesman for the Virginia Democratic Party, promptly called on Gillespie to “denounce Corey Stewart’s bigotry.” In print, though, Stewart’s comment about Roem leaves nothing to denounce.

You had to be there. Ed Gillespie wasn’t.