Next Tuesday's election between Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam is going to be a blowout, according to the polls. The only remaining uncertainty is who will be on the winning side—two polls from reputable institutions came out this past week, one showing Gillespie with an 8 point lead and another showing Northam with a 17 point lead.
Anybody putting too much stake in the polls hasn't been paying attention. The polls said Gillespie would beat Corey Stewart by double digits in the Republican primary, and he wound up winning by a single point. The polls said Northam was in a "neck-and-neck" battle with Tom Perriello in the Democratic primary, and he wound up winning by double-digits. Pollsters also said Gillespie would be blown out by Sen. Mark Warner (D.) in 2014 when he lost by less than a point.
Gillespie said on Tuesday morning that Northam's decision not to decry an ad from a pro-Northam group that depicts Gillespie supporters as Confederate-flag-flying racists who chase down minority children in pick-up trucks was a sign Northam knows the "race is slipping away."
This isn't the first sign from Northam indicating he's nervous.
This past weekend, Northam started airing radio ads defending himself from the attack leveled by Gillespie that he helped the violent MS-13 gang grow.
You can listen to the ad, which appears to have first gone up last Friday, below:
In the ad, Northam is defended by the narrator as a Virginia Military Institute cadet who follows an "honor code." Gillespie's attacks are called lies, but also spelled out for listeners.
"The truth: Dr. Northam voted to crack down on MS-13," the ad says.
In the days that immediately followed, Northam put a slightly modified ad on the radio waves defending himself from both the charge that he is weak on gangs and a different Gillespie attack that Northam supported last year's restoration of voting rights for felons, including one who was convicted of aggravated sexual battery and taking indecent liberties with a minor, and was later found to have a trove of child pornography.
"The truth: In Richmond, Dr. Northam helped pass longer sentences for gang members and mandatory life sentences for violent sexual predators," the ad, which can be heard below, says.
On TV, Northam's ads touting his own policies or attacking Gillespie's lobbyist career were substituted for an ad sending the same defensive message as his radio spots.
Northam spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel did not respond to emails asking about the thought process behind the decision to take a defensive posture.
Geoffrey Skelley, an expert on the commonwealth for University of Virginia's Center for Politics, recounted the old political saying—"if you’re explaining, you're losing"—in his thoughts on why the new ads could mean trouble for Northam.
"Northam's campaign can't be thrilled that it's having to respond to Gillespie's ads," Skelley said. "The fact that Northam has to spend money on response ads is problematic for his campaign because he could be spending it on ads attacking Gillespie on his lobbying past or connecting the Republican nominee to Trump."
"No one thinks that Northam is ahead by double-digit margins, including the Northam campaign," he said.
Skelley said Northam's ads indicate that Democrats view Gillespie's attacks on MS-13 and felon rights restoration as "threatening enough to necessitate a response," but not necessarily that Northam's campaign is in trouble.
"Just because Gillespie is seemingly driving the direction of the campaign doesn’t mean he’s going to win," Skelley said. " The point is, while Gillespie may have found some potentially effective attacks on Northam, it’s difficult to say that Gillespie’s ads have substantially altered the trajectory of the race."
"Public polling has been all over the map, with different polls showing different trends. It’s essentially choose your own adventure—either the race is quite close or Northam is comfortably ahead. The campaigns know the race is a relatively tight one, and their ad choices reflect that fact."
Whether or not the Northam campaign still thinks it has the upper hand is unclear, but its strategy has clearly changed from a month ago when Northam was letting MS-13 attacks from even President Trump roll off his back.