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Pro-gun-safety candidates swept Virginia’s three statewide offices in the 2017 elections, showing that it is prudent to run against the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) agenda and to make gun safety a centerpiece issue of campaigns. These candidates' victories help debunk a myth propogated by the media that gun violence prevention is a losing issue at the polls.
Victorious candidates in Virginia elections last night included Ralph Northam, who won the governor’s seat by nearly nine points, Justin Fairfax, who won the lieutenant governor’s race (both of whom have received “F” ratings from the NRA because of their positions on gun policy), and Mark Herring, who was re-elected attorney general. In 2013, Herring made gun safety a prominent issue of his campaign, and his actions as attorney general led the NRA to label him “one of the most anti-gun lawmakers in Virginia history.”
According to election night exit polls, Northam and Republican candidate Ed Gillespie tied among voters whose primary issue was gun policy:
Buried in exit poll: Northam, F-rated by the NRA, TIED with voters whose #1 issue was guns. pic.twitter.com/0hIxGwctr0
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) November 8, 2017
Another candidate who is often linked to gun violence prevention is Chris Hurst, who won a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. In 2015, Hurst’s girlfriend, television news reporter Alison Parker, was fatally shot during a live broadcast. Hurst, who beat NRA-endorsed Joseph Yost, ran on a platform focused on reducing gun violence specifically for people of color and women who have escaped abusive relationships.
But the NRA media myth about gun violence prevention being a losing issue at polls still persists.
During a November 8 segment on NPR’s Morning Edition about the NRA’s influence, commentator Cokie Roberts said of the group, “I have to hand it to the NRA. They participate, they organize, they contribute, they vote. That’s the way you influence legislation. And if the other side wants to get gun control done, they can’t just tell awful stories. They have to organize and contribute in the same degree.” The results in Virginia are yet another example disproving this analysis, with the NRA failing to rally its supporters to deliver any of the three statewide officers to its preferred candidate.
Winning despite the NRA’s campaign efforts is not a new trend for Virginia’s pro-gun-safety politicians. In 2013, the NRA spent $500,000 to beat Mark Herring in his bid for attorney general. After he won, his campaign manager said that Herring pulled off the victory by running on a strong record of supporting sensible gun legislation. Similarly, the NRA efforts against Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s statewide races have also repeatedly come up short. Like Northam, McAuliffe bragged about his “F” rating from the NRA during the 2013 gubernatorial race.
The myth that gun safety is a losing issue dates back to the 1994 congressional midterm elections and the 2000 presidential election in which pundits blamed losses on candidates’ support for gun safety measures. Evidence-based research into those elections has long disproved those theories, which the NRA has nevertheless promoted in order to bolster its image.
On the November 8 edition of SiriusXM Patriot’s Breitbart News Daily, Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow said Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie lost the Virginia election because he is “the definition of the swamp.” Breitbart Executive Chairman Stephen K. Bannon commented that the Republicans “should not give up the minority areas” or “the Hispanic areas,” as he implied Gillespie did. Bannon’s comments stand in stark contrast to his statement just two days prior that MS-13 and sanctuary cities were two issues where “Gillespie caught fire because he’s embracing Trumpism.” Gillespie's fearmongering around those issues was a key part of the failed candidate's rightly condemned appeal to racism.
A day before the election, Ken Klukowski, legal editor of Breitbart.com, commented on Breitbart News Daily that “Gillespie's focus in the campaign’s final weeks on immigration” and other issues, including Confederate monuments, “is in harmony with the president’s position,” which Bannon summarized as “the Trump agenda.” Klukowski said that as Gillespie had “embraced” the Trump agenda, “he has come from behind to potentially take the lead in the final days.” Bannon, who was co-hosting, claimed that the election “all [came] down to kind of the Trump issues,” such as “sanctuary cities” and “MS-13”:
According to Breitbart.com, Bannon also said during the November 6 show that “when the Gillespie campaign start[ed] to really embrace the Trump agenda, and part of that is sanctuary cities – deporting guys like these gangs, MS-13 -- … all of a sudden, Gillespie caught fire because he’s embracing Trumpism.”
Breitbart also extolled the supposed virtues of Gillespie’s racist campaign in a November 6 article: “Gillespie initially trailed in the polls to [Democrat Ralph] Northam. However, in the last few weeks, Gillespie tied, and in some polls beat, Northam by making MS-13 a focal point of his campaign.” The article further stated that “Gillespie also promised to sign legislation that would ban sanctuary cities” in Virginia.
But after Gillespie lost to Northam, Bannon said the Republican Party should “not give up the minority areas” and “the Hispanic areas,” demographics negatively smeared by Gillespie’s racist campaign. From the November 8 edition of SiriusXM Patriot’s Breitbart News Daily:
ALEX MARLOW: As Virginia is -- even though the candidate was Ed Gillespie, who is the definition of the swamp. He's a lobbyist. I mean, he's a guy who is -- campaigns with [former presidential hopeful Jeb] Bush, [former Secretary of State] Condi Rice, [Florida Republican Sen.] Marco Rubio, the exact people that the Trump voter base rejected. He has huge authenticity problems. Seems like a decent man personally, but far from inspiring. You got this encroaching swamp attitude in Northern Virginia, which really makes Northern Virginia a subsidiary of Washington, D.C. And yet you're going to hear non-stop hot takes about how this was a rejection of the Trump agenda. It almost seems farcical, but it is something we have to combat.
STEPHEN BANNON: Well I think it does. And I think it also -- when you talk about some of these demographic areas, it’s incumbent upon -- and this is why I think you need people that really embrace the Trump agenda and understand it to be out there on the hustings selling it -- is that we should not give up the minority areas, we should not give up the Hispanic areas, we should not give up the black middle class and working class areas. Now, economic nationalism is really don't be the big beneficiaries. Remember, the people that are most abused by the global elites are the black and Hispanic working class and then the minority middle class. And it’s just -- it’s outrageous. But you need people that really believe this message to the nerve marrow of their bones, I think, to be able to sell it.
An editorial from the Richmond Times-Dispatch criticized Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and the state Democratic Party for a new ad correctly linking Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie to racist groups.
Earlier this week, Northam’s campaign sent a mailer to Virginians linking Gillespie to the white nationalists who engaged in a violent protest in Charlottesville, VA, in August. The text on the ads urged voters to “stand up to hate.”
The Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial board criticized the mailer, writing that linking Gillespie to these groups is not just “a reach” but “it’s practically libel” and saying it requires voters to follow “absurd logic.” From the October 25 editorial:
Virginia Democrats seem intent on proving that two can play at that game. They have distributed a mailer of their own, seeking to tie Republican gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie to the white nationalists who rampaged through Charlottesville in August.
That isn’t merely a reach. It’s practically libel.
Gillespie has repeatedly and passionately condemned white supremacists and other creatures that have crawled out from under the alt-right rock. Linking him to them requires the following absurd logic: (1) Donald Trump said some stupid things about Charlottesville. (2) Trump is a Republican. (3) Gillespie is a Republican. (4) Therefore, Gillespie supports racial hate.
Following another white supremacist rally in Charlottesville earlier this month, Gillespie waited 24 hours before responding with a tepid statement condemning the protests. But he happens to agree with these racists on one of their top demands -- keeping confederate monuments and statues in place. Gillespie also recently hired Jack Morgan, a former campaign staffer for President Donald Trump, whom The Washington Post editorial board characterized as “a blowhard who says America is headed for a civil war and that the movement to take down Confederate monuments is a communist plot to subvert the nation.”
Gillespie has been running a campaign centered on hate, so it’s only fair to link him to that message.
WAVY News 10’s fact check of Republican Ed Gillespie’s ads in the Virginia gubernatorial race correctly identified one factual inaccuracy but failed to note the anti-immigrant falsehoods the ad pushed as well. The advertisements, which President Donald Trump parroted in his endorsement of Gillespie, have been called out as “racist” and “fear-mongering.”
In an October 5 segment, reporter Andy Fox of Portsmouth, VA’s NBC affiliate WAVY News 10 fact-checked a series of advertisements Gillespie released attacking his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, over his support for sanctuary cities. Fox explained that while “Gillespie is correct that Northam voted for and supports sanctuary cities,” Northam’s nay vote on a bill, which was defeated, to outlaw sanctuary cities in Virginia “was not the deciding vote as stated in Gillespie’s ad.”
The bill Gillespie referenced, House Bill 2000, initially failed in the Virginia state Senate earlier this year thanks to what The Washington Post’s editorial board called an act of “political trickery” in which Senate Leader Tommy Norment voted with Democrats against the bill, thus forcing Northam to cast a tiebreaking vote. Republicans later called for a revote, and Norment switched his vote to support the measure. The bill was defeated nevertheless when the Virginia state House failed to muster the votes to override Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s veto.
While the fact check did correctly note that Northam’s vote “was not the deciding vote as stated in Gillespie’s ad,” Fox missed a few additional opportunities to fact-check Gillespie. Contrary to claims made in the ad, fewer crimes are committed in sanctuary areas compared to nonsanctuary municipalities. This is at least partly because, as NPR explained, witnesses and victims in sanctuary areas are more likely to aid police. Additionally, The Economist wrote that law enforcement found that sanctuary policies “allow [police departments] to fight MS-13,” a criminal gang that Gillespie brought up in his ad, “more effectively.”
Those aren’t the only problems with Gillespie’s ads. As the Post reported, the men meant to portray MS-13 member in the ads “were not MS-13 members and were photographed in a prison in El Salvador.” Additionally, as Washingtonian pointed out, “there technically aren’t any” sanctuary cities in Virginia, although, as ThinkProgress noted, “some areas of the state do have sanctuary city-like policies protecting immigrants from deportation.”
While Gillespie’s ad has been criticized for “fear-mongering” and being “super racist," it does seem to have at least one fan: President Donald Trump. Trump echoed the messages in Gillespie’s ad in an October 5 tweet announcing his support for the Republican, which was tweeted eleven minutes after the ad ran during Fox News programming:
Ralph Northam,who is running for Governor of Virginia,is fighting for the violent MS-13 killer gangs & sanctuary cities. Vote Ed Gillespie!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 6, 2017
Candidates in 2013 were asked about abortion. Moderators in 2017 must do the same.
In the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial election, Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie have faced off in two debates -- neither of which has included a question about their positions on abortion. On October 9, Northman and Gillespie will participate in a third debate, moderated by NBC affiliate WCYB anchor Paul Johnson and featuring reporter Carmen Forman as a panelist. Given Gillespie’s known extremism on abortion and reproductive rights, Johnson and Forman have a responsibility to ask both candidates about their views on the issue.
Republican nominee Ed Gillespie previously said he "would like to see abortion be banned"
On September 19, Virginia gubernatorial candidates Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie will meet for their second of three debates ahead of the November 7 election. As the race between these two candidates becomes tighter, debate moderators have a responsibility to ask Gillespie about his extreme position on abortion.
New polls show that the race between Gillespie and Northam has narrowed: One poll shows the candidates tied while another has Northam with a 5-point lead, but within the margin of error. Debates often serve as the first real encounters voters have with candidates, making the platform an essential opportunity for moderators to highlight the contrast between the candidates’ positions. Thus, moderators for the two remaining debates must ask questions that highlight the differences between Gillespie and Northam’s positions -- particularly Gillespie’s dangerous stance on abortion access.
Earlier this year, while at a forum for potential Republican gubernatorial nominees, Gillespie told the crowd, “I would like to see abortion be banned because I think it is a taking of an innocent human life.” Gillespie also expressed support for defunding Planned Parenthood and banning all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, despite the lack of a constitutional basis for such a policy. The anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List also supports Gillespie and plans to run digital ads for him before the election. In contrast, Northam has argued that abortion should remain a medical decision for the person seeking an abortion, earning him the support of Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America.
As the 2016 presidential debates showed, asking candidates about their positions on key issues such as abortion rights is essential. Last year, moderators failed to ask the presidential candidates about their stances on abortion until the final debate, at which point then-Republican nominee Donald Trump falsely claimed that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton supported letting abortion providers “take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month, on the final day.”
At the Republican gubernatorial candidates forum, the moderator explicitly asked Gillespie about whether the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade -- exposing his extreme position that abortion should be banned. During the first gubernatorial debate, however, debate moderator Judy Woodruff, anchor of PBS NewsHour, did not ask the candidates a single question about abortion or reproductive rights.
Given Woodruff’s omission, NBC’s Chuck Todd, who will serve as the moderator for the second debate, must press Gillespie about his comments on abortion. Restrictions on abortion access largely happen at the state level, taking the form of unnecessary laws that delay and stop access to abortion. In Virginia, people seeking an abortion already must undergo mandatory counseling and then wait 24 hours to have the procedure. Gillespie’s desire "to see abortion be banned" is extreme, and it's up to moderators to hold him accountable while voters are watching.