Gubernatorial candidates Ed Gillespie, left, a Republican, and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, face off in next month’s election.
(The Washington Post via AP Photo/Bonnie Jo Mount)
President Donald Trump has expressed his support for the Republican candidate for Virginia governor – and accused the Democratic candidate of “fighting for the violent MS-13” gang.
Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam are duking it out in next month’s gubernatorial race in the Old Dominion commonwealth. Just one of two states electing governors this year, Virginia is a swing state contest viewed as a possible referendum on Trump’s first year in office.
Northam leads Gillespie by 7 percentage points in Fox News’ latest polling average. Trump lost to opponent Hillary Clinton by about 5 points in Virginia during the 2016 presidential election.
Here’s a look at the candidates.
Ed Gillespie, Republican
This isn’t Ed Gillespie’s first rodeo when it comes to Virginia politics. The 56-year-old ran against incumbent Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., in 2014 and nearly defeated him.
Republican Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie is the former National Republican Committee chair and severed as a counselor to former President George W. Bush.
(AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Gillespie is a former chair of the National Republican Committee and served as a counselor to former President George W. Bush for nearly two years. Gillespie touts his leadership within conservative circles on his campaign website, highlighting his time as chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia and work as a communications aide to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey.
Gillespie and his wife have three children and live in Fairfax County, Va. He graduated from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Ralph Northam, Democrat
Ralph Northam, the lieutenant governor of Virginia, is a physician and Army veteran. On his campaign website, he said he is “most proud” of “his career fighting for children – as a pediatric neurologist and volunteer medical director for a pediatric hospice care facility.”
Ralph Northam, Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, is the current lieutenant governor of the state.
(AP Photo/Steve Helber)
While current Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is barred by state law from running for re-election, Northam, 58, would be expected to govern the commonwealth much as McAuliffe did. He is for greater gun control and abortion rights. He has also promised to “be a brick wall against the discrimination of the Trump administration,” according to his campaign website.
Northam lives in Norfolk, Va., with his wife. The pair has two children, a son who is a neurosurgery resident and a daughter who is working as a web developer.
Endorsements and ads
While Trump endorsed Gillespie in a tweet in October, the establishment gubernatorial candidate hasn’t totally embraced the president or his politics on the campaign trail. And he almost lost to an ardent Trump defender in the primary race.
Still, Trump offered his support and encouraged his more than 40 million Twitter followers to “Vote Ed Gillespie!”
Trump also accused Northam of “fighting for the violent MS-13 killer gangs [and] sanctuary cities.”
Northam responded on Twitter with a link to his campaign donations website. He has also called the president a “narcissistic maniac” multiple times during the primary.
Advertisements from both sides have been criticized as the race heads to a close.
Northam’s campaign came under fire for a Democratic mailer that shows Gillespie and Trump along with a photo of the angry white nationalists carrying torches who descended on Charlottesville, Va., in August. The mailer encourages voters to “stand up to hate.”
Northam has stood by the mailer and slammed Gillespie for not denouncing Trump “for not calling these white supremacists out for who they are.”
“Because the message is that we live in a very diverse society. That means that we need to be inclusive,” Northam said, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Another highly criticized ad – this one from the nonprofit Latino Victory Fund – shows scared minority children being chased by a truck with a “Gillespie for governor” sticker, a Gadsden flag vanity license plate and Confederate flag.
“Is this what Donald Trump and Ed Gillespie mean by the American Dream?” a narrator asks in the one-minute spot.
Chris Leavitt, Gillespie’s campaign manager, slammed the advertisement as “an all-out attack on the people of Virginia” and blamed “Northam and his allies” for what he called a “desperate smear campaign.”
Northam’s supporters “have reached a new low with a disgusting, vile televison ad seeking to instill fear in our children with that same imagery,” Leavitt said in a statement to Fox News.
Northam’s campaign has defended the ad. Campaign spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel said in a statement that, “It’s not shocking that communities of color are scared of what his Trump-like policy positions mean for them.”
Gillespie, too, has been criticized for ads in support of his campaign. He has released several ads that attempt to tie Northam to the MS-13 gang.
One ad in particular shows a sinister hooded figure holding a baseball bat as the word’s “Kill, bad, Control” – MS-13’s motto – flash on the screen. The ad accuses Northam of being “weak” on combating the gang.
The Northam campaign has called Gillespie’s ads “beyond the pale.”
Bush hosted a fundraiser for Gillespie in Virginia earlier this month. And Vice President Mike Pence joined him at a weekend rally.
Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton headlined a fundraiser for Northam in New York earlier this month. And former Vice President Joe Biden backed Northam during a roundtable event.
Former President Barack Obama also campaigned with Northam earlier in October, and Sen. Corey Booker, D-N.J., will show his support at an event later this week.
Fox News’ Nicole Darrah and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter @K_Schallhorn.