Yahoo News: Ed Gillespie often insists that the gubernatorial election in Virginia should mainly be a dialogue about the deeply researched policy papers he’s put out on seemingly every topic under the sun.
And while that may be true, the Republican’s campaign might be best known at this point for a series of TV ads in which photos of heavily tattooed Latino men are displayed as the words “KILL, RAPE, CONTROL” flash across the screen.
“That ad has aired, to my knowledge, far more than any other ad,” said political sage Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “I see it several times a day in flipping through channels.”
The ad stretches facts to suggest Democratic nominee Ralph Northam — the incumbent lieutenant governor — authorized sanctuary cities in Virginia for undocumented immigrants, even though there are no sanctuary cities in the commonwealth. But it is most noteworthy because of how different it is from the way Gillespie has talked about the Latino community in the past.
Gillespie supporters like Jason Miyares, a Republican state delegate from Virginia Beach and a former prosecutor, say that the GOP nominee for governor is running an inclusive campaign and that his ad is simply endorses “law and order.”
“I give Virginians a lot more credit maybe than some other people,” said Miyares, the son of a Cuban refugee. “They understand the average MS-13 member is not the person they live along side with, work alongside with, and worship alongside with. Virginians are a lot smarter than that.”
But it’s hard to imagine Gillespie running an ad like his MS-13 spot a few years ago, because for over a decade he’s been a leader of the Republican effort to bring Latinos into the GOP and tone down anti-immigration rhetoric. The inflammatory nature of the TV ad illustrates to many observers how even the most moderate Republicans are being pulled to the hard right by the Republican Party base.
And there are echoes of another devoutly religious political figure who decades ago ran statewide in a Southern state with a moderate message, lost, and then changed his approach in a second campaign to try to win over voters animated at least in part by fear or dislike of minorities: Jimmy Carter.
In 2010, Gillespie oversaw the GOP’s effort to take control of more state legislatures. It was a wildly successful effort that gave the party control of redrawing congressional districts in many states, an advantage Gillespie helped the party use to augment their control of the House.
For Gillespie, it was another victory in a career marked by success, from wealthy and powerful lobbyist to chairman of the Republican National Committee to top White House adviser under President George W. Bush.
But Gillespie was still troubled by the Republican Party’s movement away from being a welcoming place for racial minorities, especially Latino voters.
In the summer of 2011, Gillespie announced that he wanted to recruit 100 Latino candidates to run as Republicans for state legislature seats around the country. “The demographics of America are changing, and any political party that fails to recognize that is going to find themselves consigned to minority status in the not-too-distant future,” Gillespie said.
A month later, I interviewed Gillespie in his Virginia office just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., to talk more broadly about the Republican Party and the Latino vote.
“As Latinos become more integrated into our society and our country, they’re going to register in bigger numbers and more actively participate in the political process,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie said the GOP had alienated Latino voters through its harsh anti-immigration rhetoric.
“Sometimes [the GOP] sounded anti-immigrant,” Gillespie said. “And that turns people off.”
Part of the solution, he said, would be more aggressive outreach to the Latino community.
“We need to be on Telemundo and Univision and all of the Spanish-language radio markets in some of the urban areas and get our message out,” Gillespie said.
In 2013, Gillespie was a supporter of the comprehensive immigration reform effort, which passed the Senate but ran out of steam in the House.
A year later, when Gillespie ran for the U.S. Senate, he was less enthusiastic about the 2013 reform effort. But in 2015, he reiterated his past comments about the changing face of the electorate, and said the GOP “must adapt.”
But then in 2016, Donald Trump was elected president while denouncing Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals, and Gillespie’s path to the governor’s mansion became far more complicated. Things became even more difficult when Gillespie only barely defeated a Trump-like primary challenger in June, Corey Stewart.