Democrat Softens Stance on Trump in Virginia Governor's Race, GOP Pounces on Former Attacks

Virginia's Lt. Governor Ralph Northam
Ralph Northam / Getty Images
October 4, 2017

Virginia Democrat Ralph Northam, who repeatedly called President Donald Trump a "narcissistic maniac" who should stay "on the other side of the Potomac" during his primary battle with former representative Tom Perriello (D.), dropped a new ad on Tuesday that opens with a pledge to work with Trump to help Virginia.

"If Donald Trump is helping Virginia, I'll work with him," Northam says after stating that in his previous career as a doctor, "nobody ever asked if he is a Democrat or a Republican."

The stark change in tone by Northam was immediately noticed by reporters covering the race such as Politico's Kevin Robbilard, who covered Northam in his race against Perriello—a race where candidates attacked Trump more often than they attacked each other. Robillard noted that the new ad takes a "softer tack towards the Republican president."

A reporter from the Richmond Times-Dispatch remarked that the approach from Northam is "clearly different from his resistance tones in Dem primary." The shift was also noted by the Washington Post.

Northam's campaign argued that this was not a major shift, pointing the Washington Free Beacon to two instances during recent debates when Northam said that he would work with Trump. Both were references to ending sequestration.

State Republicans seized on the new Northam ad, putting out a video contrasting the "I'll work with him" statement with his previous attacks on Trump, such as that he is "dangerous for this country" and that he is "promoting hatred, bigotry, discrimination, and fear."

The Republican Governor's Association labeled Northam's comment that he would work with Trump as a "major flip-flop."

"With just one month until Election Day, Virginia Democrat Ralph Northam has panicked and is now running away from his campaign’s central message of attacking President Donald Trump," wrote the RGA. "Unfortunately for Northam, Virginians won’t be fooled by his desperate, last-minute attempt to flip-flop on his campaign’s central message."

The RGA posits that the shift could be due to rising concern among some Democratic officials that candidates are becoming "addicted to Trump attacks" and that it might not be an effective strategy.

The RGA also points out that Northam attacked his Republican opponent earlier this summer for saying he would work with Trump to bring military spending to Virginia.