Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D.) deflected multiple questions on Thursday about a new mailer ad released earlier in the week by Virginia Democrats that attempted to link Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie and President Donald Trump to multiple white nationalist rallies that have recently been held in Charlottesville, Va.
McAuliffe participated in WRVA Richmond's "Ask the Governor" session with reporter Matt Demlein where he was asked several questions about economic development, transportation, education, and the controversial campaign ads employed in the 2017 gubernatorial campaign.
Demlein quoted a reporter who said the gubernatorial campaign had reached the "outrage phase," citing both Gillespie's MS-13 street gang campaign ads in which he targeted Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam for being weak on crime, and the recently released white nationalist mailer ad sent out by Northam, the state's current lieutenant governor, and state Democrats. He asked McAuliffe whether civility had been lost in the race and whether the white nationalist ad was "fair" to Gillespie.
McAuliffe swiftly responded by castigating the GOP candidate, and rather than respond directly to the question of the white nationalist ad, he said Gillespie "has run this campaign into the gutter." Demlein cut him off mid-sentence to turn his attention back to the Democratic mailer, asking him whether it was fair for Northam and Virginia Democrats to try to link Gillespie to white nationalists. The radio host said the GOP candidate "fairly swiftly" condemned the individuals involved in the Aug. 12 white nationalist rally. The Democratic governor deflected the question, and started talking about how Gillespie's MS-13 ad inaccurately portrayed Northam. The governor claimed that, unlike what is portrayed in the attack ad, there are no sanctuary cities in Virginia and the "gang members" in Gillespie's ads are from a rival gang of MS-13 in El Salvador, not Virginia.
McAuliffe further attacked Gillespie for being a co-founder of the political action committee, American Crossroads, and said its "dark money" influence was bad for politics. He failed to mention Northam's campaign has received approximately 41 percent of its direct donations from outside groups, totaling over $9 million, as of Sept. 30, according to the the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project. Gillespie received approximately 35 percent of direct donations from outside groups, totaling over $5 million, as of Sept. 30.
Later in the interview, Demlein followed up by asking the former Democratic National Committee chair whether the white nationalist ad helped the "gutter politics, fear, bigotry, and divisiveness" that he accused Gillespie of bringing to Virginia, noting that both ads go "down roughly the same line."
"Well what this is doing is responding to those two ads that he has brought–that Ed Gillespie has brought hate to our beautiful state. We don’t need that dark money; we don’t need American Crossroads here," McAuliffe said. "You know, our state is doing great. Let me say one other thing. Let’s be clear, we are very safe here in Virginia. We are safe. Ed is trying to scare everybody–the daylights out of them–to run in their houses, to lock their doors, to get in the basement and not talk to anybody."
"But overall, do you think the campaigns need to be more civil? And I’m not just saying the Governor’s race, but all the races. Do you think we’ve gone down a path that we need to pull back from a little bit?" Demlein asked.
McAuliffe deflected the question and started talking about how Virginians want to talk about transportation, economic development, and health care before he shifted to attack Gillespie's criticism of the Virginia economy under McAuliffe's leadership.
"Ed talks about oh the economy is in horrible shape. I just deal with my metrics," McAuliffe said. "Much more jobs than my predecessor, whose chairman of the campaign he was, a lot more economic investment, lower unemployment, 4.3 million workers in Virginia today, higher than we’ve ever had in the great history of our Commonwealth, and personal income is up over the last four years. "
McAuliffe's deflections contrast with his WTOP interview on Wednesday when he embraced and defended the mailer ad, which had been approved by all three Democratic campaigns on the ticket and was funded by the Democratic Party of Virginia. The governor said during that interview that that mailer's creators were trying to make the same point he had been addressing about the GOP candidate "bringing hatred" to the state, despite his admission that he had never seen the ad before the interview.