Northam, Gillespie Face Off in Cordial Debate While 2 Polls Show Northam Ahead

The RGA gave Gillespie another $1 million, and John Warner endorsed the Republican.

Sept. 20, 2017, 11:20 a.m.

In a decidedly polite debate Tuesday night, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and former RNC Chair Ed Gillespie (R) offered stances on everything from the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to the role of Confederate monuments in their state following the events of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. In their opening statements, Gillespie touched on Virginia’s job and wage growth, noting that the state’s “economic growth rate for the past six years has been below the national GDP rate,” while Northam touted his administration’s job creation record and the low 3.8 percent unemployment rate, “the lowest it’s been in nine years” while “wages and salaries are up over 12%.”

Gillespie and Northam’s different takes on the current strength of the state’s economy was far from their only disagreement. Gillespie said Confederate statues should remain in place in order to educate citizens, adding that new statues of African-Americans who have contributed to the state should be put up, while Northam said such decisions should be left to localities but personally advocated for taking down the statues and placing them in museums.

Both candidates wavered on at least one topic. On health care, one of the more contentious issues in the debate, Northam decried the current Graham-Cassidy bill, while Gillespie maintained his support for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act but equivocated on his support for the current bill. When the candidates addressed the Atlantic Coastal Pipeline, which Gillespie supports, Northam’s response was unclear enough that moderator Chuck Todd made one of his few interventions of the night, asking the lieutenant governor to clarify his stance (he supports a pipeline so long as environmental safeguards are in place).

Neither Gillespie nor Northam said they would copy Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) $500 million offer to the Washington, D.C. Metro system, a hot topic in the Northern Virginia region where the debate took place.

Perhaps the most notable element of the debate was each candidate’s approach to discussing President Trump, who didn’t win Virginia in 2016 but who has created a difficult line for the candidates to walk, particularly after Trump voters almost lost Gillespie the Republican primary. Northam said he would try to work with the president on issues where they agreed, but slammed the president’s immigration ban and undermining of DACA, among other policies, while Gillespie told reporters after the debate that he would work with the president where he could as well.

Despite contentious ads, the candidates appeared to be on friendly terms with one another, even sharing a laugh during the sole commercial break. (Hotline reporting)

MONEY MAN. The RGA gave Gillespie another $1 million on Tuesday, “bringing total investment thus far to” $4 million. (release)

A Q FOR YOU. Northam led Gillespie 51-41 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll (Sept. 14-18; 850 LVs; +/- 4.2%) released Tuesday. Cliff Hyra (L) got 3 percent.

“Northam gets a 47 – 31 percent favorability rating among Virginia likely voters. Gillespie gets 40 percent favorable and 39 percent unfavorable. For Hyra, 84 percent of likely voters don’t know enough about him to form an opinion of him.”

“Northam leads Gillespie 95 – 3 percent among Democrats, with 1 percent for Hyra, and 50 – 37 percent among independent voters, with 7 percent for Hyra. Gillespie takes Republicans 94 – 4 percent, with no measurable support for Hyra. … There are wide gender and racial gaps as men back the Republican 49 – 39 percent while women back the Democrat 61 – 34 percent. White voters back Gillespie 49 – 44 percent while non-white voters back Northam 74 – 16 percent.”

“For 27 percent of Virginia likely voters, the economy is the most important issue in deciding how they will vote for governor. Another 21 percent cite health care, as 12 percent list education, 11 percent say taxes and 10 percent say immigration.” Respondents “disapprove 58 – 39 percent of the job President Donald Trump is doing. Democrats disapprove 97 – 3 percent and independent voters disapprove 64 – 32 percent, as Republicans approve 88 – 8 percent. Voters approve 56 – 37 percent of the job Gov. Terry McAuliffe is doing, including 91 – 3 percent among Democrats and 60 – 32 percent among independent voters. Republicans disapprove 82 – 10 percent.” (release)

Another poll by Fox News (Sept. 17-18; 507 RVs) by Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R) showed Northam and Gillespie statistically tied at 42-41 percent among likely voters (+/-4.5%).

“Over half of registered voters” (53 percent) are “extremely” (23 percent) or “very” (30 percent) interested in the governor’s race. Among just those interested voters, Gillespie tops Northam by 1 point (45-44 percent). “[O]ne quarter of Virginia voters say they could change their mind before Election Day” (27 percent). Some 74 percent of Northam’s backers are certain they will vote for him. That’s just a touch more than the 70 percent of Gillespie’s supporters who feel sure to back him. “Overall, two-thirds are happy with the way things are going in Virginia (67 percent). Those backing Northam (81 percent) are 31 points more likely than Gillespie supporters (50 percent) to be satisfied.”

“A majority of Virginia voters, 53 percent, disapprove of the job Donald Trump is doing as president. … Most, however, say the president isn’t a factor in their vote for governor (74 percent). And nearly equal numbers say their vote is intended to show support for Trump (10 percent) as say it’s to express opposition (13 percent). In addition, 82 percent of Trump voters back or lean to Gillespie, while 84 percent of Hillary Clinton’s voters support or lean to Northam.” (Fox News)

YOU’VE BEEN WARNERED. Former Sen. John Warner (R) endorsed Gillespie on Tuesday. Warner has previously supported Sen. Mark Warner (D) against Gillespie in 2014 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. Warner: “He has the character, integrity, experience and ideas to be a strong leader for our great Commonwealth.” (release)

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS. Northam has been going after Gillespie for having as clients “major corporations that laid off Virginia workers. … Gillespie or his firms previously advised Bank of America, Anthem and AT&T, companies that shed hundreds of jobs in Virginia, in some cases while Gillespie was advising the clients. … It is not clear whether Northam’s attack on Gillespie will stick, given the regularity with which companies lay off employees and Gillespie’s indirect connection to the companies’ human resources decisions.” (Huffington Post)

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