Virginia will elect a new governor Tuesday. If Republican candidate Ed Gillespie can defeat Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam for the position now held by a term-limited Democrat, his victory would be prime proof for Republicans across the country that the conservative movement is alive, well and on the ascendency.
Both former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have toured the state raising money for the candidate of each of their parties. President Trump regularly tweets support for Gillespie and attacks Northam. A flood of other politicians, journalists and commentators have suddenly taken an interest in the governor’s race as well.
It is no secret that in the past few years conservatives have been deeply worried about how changing demographics and a coarser discourse could affect the conservative movement’s future appeal. These worries were further amplified last year as many Republicans in Washington and beyond were concerned about how President Trump’s rash statements at times would affect the GOP’s appeal to Hispanic-Americans, women and other demographic groups.
However, on Election Day last year many of those doubts were temporarily put to rest as Donald Trump scored stronger than expected support among all these groups, according to exit polls. Yet many still worried that this was just an exception in an overall downward trend for Republicans.
Virginia is a strong test case for the Republican Party’s future appeal because it is a state that has for so long been out of the reach of conservatives. A diverse state in nearly every way, no Republican has won statewide since 2009, with a steadily declining share of the vote since then.
In last year’s presidential race, Hillary Clinton carried the state with nearly 50 percent of the vote and President Trump received just over 44 percent.
As one of the Virginia GOP’s statewide Electoral College members and a campaign official on the Trump campaign in the state, I got to see and participate firsthand in the efforts to help President Trump win in Virginia – sadly, to no avail.
However this year looks different. Republicans are still energized by the extraordinary victory of President Trump and congressional Republicans last year, as well as the string of special election wins this year. Recent polling has also shown positive signs for Gillespie, with a Hampton University poll a few days ago showing him up 8 points over Northam.
Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman and White House counselor for President George W. Bush, has run an incredible campaign in Virginia. He has combined the inclusive and aspirational Reagan-Bush approach – as represented by his slogan “For ALL Virginians” – with strong concern for the working-class voters who were so essential to President Trump’s victory nationwide.
While reaching out to ethnic communities and business leaders in Northern Virginia, Gillespie has also toured rural and Appalachian Southwest Virginia to talk about the opioid crisis and providing economic opportunity for those employed in industrial jobs.
If Gillespie loses, it would show that Virginia’s extremely lopsided political demographics remain difficult to overcome.
But if Gillespie wins, Republicans across the country may find that the strange coalition we’ve built in Virginia is a new and lasting one for our modern era. It is a coalition that that can help Republicans nationwide in reinvigorating the conservative movement and ending much of the “establishment versus grassroots” infighting that has characterized Republican politics in recent years.
I’ve personally worked tirelessly on Gillespie’s campaign over the past two years, serving on his Jobs and Economic Growth Policy Working Group as well as several other roles from the early primary campaign until now. I know he and his pro-growth and inclusive leadership style will allow him be an excellent governor for Virginia.
Furthermore, Gillespie can be an inspiration for conservatives across the nation looking for a leader whose style other Republicans can follow to victory.
The conservative movement is in need of bold leaders, and hopefully in a few days we here in Virginia will be electing a truly extraordinary one.