The party with control of the White House tends to lose the Virginia gubernatorial race. It would serve Virginia well to buck that trend and elect Ed Gillespie in November.
Despite the drag of President Trump’s unpopularity in the state, Gillespie has made the race competitive, and most observers don’t believe the Washington Post poll last week that had Democratic lieutenant governor Ralph Northam up by double digits. Given his shocking near-upset of Senator Mark Warner in 2014, no one should underestimate Gillespie’s capacity to surprise. The closeness of the race is a sign of the weakness of Northam and Gillespie’s sure-footedness as a candidate.
We have disagreed with Gillespie on immigration over the years. In the past, he supported the “comprehensive” reform, although his enthusiasm for it has, we are glad to say, markedly diminished. In the gubernatorial race, he has emphasized enforcement and repeatedly hit Northam for his vote against a measure that would prevent the creation of sanctuary cities in Virginia (Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed the bill). Gillespie has painted the downside of lax enforcement in the starkest terms by emphasizing the depredations of the MS-13 gang — an extreme example but also a genuine menace.
A rap against Gillespie is that he is a creature of the establishment. It is true that he has worked in and around politics for decades. He emerged as an instrumental aide to congressional Republicans in the 1990s, beginning as a staffer for Dick Armey when the Texan was an insurgent backbencher. Gillespie advised George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign and went on to become chairman of the Republican National Committee. He also started a successful lobbying firm. No one will mistake him for an outsider. But he is a sincere and public-spirited man. In 2007, when George W. Bush was friendless and unpopular, Gillespie went to serve in the White House as a counselor, not for the glory of it (there was none), but out of a sense of duty.
Gillespie’s long résumé may be a reason that Trump enthusiasts who voted for his outlandish primary opponent, Corey Stewart, aren’t yet rallying around him. They should think again. A Gillespie victory would significantly dent the narrative that the Trump-era GOP is foundering politically.
Then, there are the merits of the case. Gillespie is running on a serious, forward-looking conservative agenda. His signature policy is broad-based tax reform, which Northam — who has yet to release a detailed tax plan of his own — has called a “tax cut for the rich at the expense of the working class.” Actually, Virginia’s top personal-income-tax rate kicks in at $17,000, and Gillespie is proposing to cut income taxes by 10 percent across all of Virginia’s tax brackets. The current governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, has presided over a period of falling labor-force participation and relatively weak economic growth. Gillespie’s tax plan would be an economic boost.
Gillespie wants to reform the regulations that he says make it “nearly impossible” to open new charter schools. Flexibility is essential for a state this big, yet Virginia has only nine charter schools, one of the lowest totals in the nation. That’s in no small part because McAuliffe, who vetoed a school-choice bill in March, is a tool of the teachers’ unions. Northam would follow in McAuliffe’s footsteps.
Gillespie has also suggested practical solutions to trickier problems. He wants to divert non-violent drug offenders to addiction centers, and proposes a significant overhaul of the state’s mental-health services.
Gillespie is an experienced, practical-minded conservative who is a good fit for the increasingly purple state. We have no doubt he would be a good governor, and this is not even a close call — vote Gillespie.
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