Democrats are spending the closing days of Virginia’s contentious gubernatorial race trying to tie Republican nominee Ed Gillespie to this summer’s white supremacist violence in Charlottesville – something the Gillespie campaign is decrying as an “ugly character smear.”
The fight comes as Gillespie is running television ads drawing a contrast between him and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ralph Northam on the removal of Confederate statues in Virginia.
In an apparent reference to that stance on statues, former Hillary Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon tweeted a photo Friday of tiki torch-wielding white nationalists in Charlottesville with the caption: “Live look at Ed Gillespie campaign strategy meeting.”
Earlier this week, mailers funded by the Democratic Party of Virginia also surfaced with Gillespie and President Trump superimposed over a photo of the white supremacist protesters.
“On Tuesday, November 7th, Virginia gets to stand up to hate,” it reads.
The back of the mailer promotes the Democratic ticket with photos of Northam, lieutenant governor nominee Justin Fairfax and attorney general nominee Mark Herring.
The Gillespie campaign fired back at the attacks Friday.
“Northam, the entire Democratic ticket and CNN should condemn this ugly character smear that has no place in our Commonwealth’s political discourse," David Abrams, a spokesman for Gillespie’s campaign, told Fox News.
Abrams referenced CNN because Fallon is a contributor there.
But Fallon stood by his tweet in an email to Fox News.
“Ed Gillespie should be ashamed of the ads he is running in this campaign,” Fallon said. “This is a vile and pathetic attempt to appeal to the Bannon wing of Donald Trump's Republican party.”
He said his tweet was in reference to Gillespie’s television ads, which also have accused Northam of being soft on MS-13, violent felons and sex offenders.
Asked if it’s fair to connect Gillespie to Charlottesville marchers, Northam’s campaign also defended the effort.
"For more than 70 days, Ed Gillespie has refused to call out Donald Trump's response to Charlottesville for what it was: disheartening and wrong,” Northam campaign spokesman David Turner told Fox News. “When the Charlottesville community wanted leadership to help them heal, he failed. Ed Gillespie should be willing to call out Donald Trump when he's wrong and because he won't, he gives voters a clear choice on Nov. 7.”
A 32-year-old counter-protester was killed by a white supremacist during the Charlottesville violence.
And at the time, Gillespie spoke out against the white supremacists who gathered at the University of Virginia.
“As reported extensively by Virginia media, Ed strongly and repeatedly condemned the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who invaded our Commonwealth,” Abrams said Friday. “It is outrageous that Ralph Northam and his liberal allies in the national media are exploiting imagery from that tragic weekend for political points.”
The unrest in Charlottesville sparked a nationwide debate over the removal of Confederate monuments, as some of the white supremacists there had also been protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.
Trump reiterated his support for Gillespie in a tweet this week, saying Gillespie will “save our great statues/heritage!”
Gillespie’s campaign has embraced the issue as public polling in the state shows most voters are against removing the statues while even Democrats remain divided on the issue.
The Gillespie ad draws attention to Northam telling a radio station in August: "I will do everything that I can, that I have authority to do, to remove the statues at the state level and I also will be a vocal advocate for their removal elsewhere."
Northam has since softened his stance, saying decisions on monuments should be left to localities.
But in the ad, Gillespie says: “I’m for keeping them up, and he’s for taking them down, and that’s a big difference in November.”