AN UPDATE ON THE RACE AND HOW THE CONFEDERATE STATUE DEBATE HAS IMPACTED THE ELECTION
By Ashley Stewart, Staff Writer
The political climate in Virginia is heating up as the gubernatorial election inches closer to the November 7 deadline and both party candidates are racing to garner the most political support. With the Confederate statue debate hitting the spotlight in Virginia, the candidates’ opinion on the subject has been observed by voters.
Democratic nominee and current Lieutenant Governor, Ralph Northam and Republican nominee, former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie are contending to be Virginia’s next governor. They both were favored during the primaries, as they represent a more moderate view of their respective party ideals. However, in the current political climate of the Trump administration, they have strayed from their moderate pasts and moved farther down the political spectrum.
A June 2017 Washington Post article, “Va. governor’s race gets a jump on Labor Day, stoked by statues and Trump”, by Gregory S. Schneider and Laura Vozzella, noted that Gillespie has changed his focus from comprehensive immigration reform to protecting communities from potentially dangerous undocumented criminals, while Northam is relaxing his famed Southern charm and increasing his amount of statements openly criticizing President Donald Trump.
An issue that both candidates have focused on is the ongoing debate over Confederate statues and whether or not they should be removed. This issue was brought to light following the “Unite the Right” rally that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12 that resulted in outbreaks of violence as white supremacist and neo-nazi groups clashed with counter protesters.
Ed Gillespie is facing some heavy criticism for his unwavering stance in regard to whether or not Confederate statues should remain on public property. He does not support the removal of the statues, but believes their removal should be the decision of local areas, according to an article published Aug. 17 2017 on CNN Politics, “Virginia’s Confederate history also bubbling up in governor race” by Ryan Nobles.
His stance and attitude towards the debate can be linked to a recent and controversial hire of a former Trump campaign staffer, Jack Morgan.
Morgan was President Trump’s Southwest Virginia field director during the Trump presidential campaign and, during the gubernatorial primary season, worked for Gillespie’s more populist conservative opponent, Corey Stewart.
According to Washington Post article “Gillespie hires former Trump field director and sharpens tone on confederate monuments” by Laura Vozzella published on August 29, 2017, Morgan’s background as an evangelical preacher, motivational speaker, and “self-defense entrepreneur” made him appealing to Stewart’s strict conservative platform.
One of Stewart’s strongest talking points involved defending Confederate statutes as a part of American history. He even went to Charlottesville in February to publicly defend the statue of Robert E. Lee. Morgan played this as a major aspect of Stewart’s campaign, also reciting stump speeches that would openly criticize Gillespie for being weak on the issue of Confederate monuments.
After Gillespie won the party nomination by a slight 1.2 point margin, he opted to hire Jack Morgan to garner support from the further politically right-leaning sect of Virginia that voted for Trump and again for Stewart.
When asked about her views on the Confederate statue debate, UVA student and College Republican member Emily Ord said, “Though personal political beliefs about more issue-specific figures reserve the right to have differing opinions, raising up a Confederate soldier, whose commemoration clearly revolves around their role in fighting a war to maintain their right of slavery, seems blatantly inappropriate.”
Democratic candidate Ralph Northam has a very different opinion in comparison to his opponent, releasing a statement on his website saying that he believes in the removal of the statues and relocating them to museums.
When asked about her views on the Confederate statue debate, Mason junior and GMU Democrats President Danni Gonyo said, “While I believe it’s important to take down the Confederate statues, I don’t believe that they will play a large role politically in this year’s election…The white supremacists that marched in Charlottesville were not Virginians, but the people who are voting in November are. And Virginians care much more about getting rid of actual white supremacists than we do about taking down the marble images of their grandfathers.”
According to polling data from realclearpolitics.com, as of Aug. 19 Northam was ahead in the polls by 5.8 points. The race for the governor’s seat will only intensify in the coming months as the November general election draws closer.
Photos Courtesy of Gracie Hall