RICHMOND — Former president Barack Obama took the unusual step of criticizing and mocking Virginia’s Republican gubernatorial candidate for a controversial ad blitz highlighting Latino gang violence.
As he rallied for the Democratic candidate Ralph Northam on Thursday night, Obama mentioned that he and his wife, Michelle Obama, have seen Republican Ed Gillespie’s commercials airing on television in their D.C. home.
The spots say Northam is “weak on MS-13” as images of tattooed Latino men and the gang motto “Kill, Rape, Control” pop up on the screen.
Independent fact-checkers deemed the ads misleading.
“We have seen this so many times before,” said Obama, who spent five minutes tearing into the strategy. “You’ve got the advertisement. There is some ominous voice. Everything is kind of dark. Just letting you know that somebody is coming to get you. That our values are at risk if you vote for Ralph. They don’t really tell you exactly why. We have seen it before. And it is a tactic that shows Ralph’s opponent does not think highly of Virginians.”
Northam, a former Army doctor and pediatric neurologist, is in a neck-and-neck race with Gillespie, a former lobbyist and GOP strategist.
“I don’t think that someone who spent his life performing surgery on soldiers and children is suddenly cozying up to street gangs,” Obama said to laughter from the crowd of 7,500 at the city’s convention center. “That strains credulity. That sounds like a fib. Sounds like an okey-doke. Nobody believes that.”
He suggested that Gillespie’s ads were hypocritical, noting that as a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a party strategist, Gillespie argued for years that the GOP needed to be more expansive and welcoming to Latinos, should tamp down anti-immigration rhetoric and embrace comprehensive immigration reform.
“Look, we all have valid concerns about crime,” Obama said. “We have legitimate concerns and even legitimate differences of how to manage immigration in a way that is orderly and fair. But the fact is crime and illegal immigration are as low as they’ve been in decades. And Ralph’s opponent knows it. He has gone on record in the past, condemning the same kind of rhetoric that he’s using right now.”
“What he’s really trying to deliver is fear. What he really believes is if you scare enough voters, you might score just enough votes to win an election,” Obama said. “It’s just as cynical…