Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) will be in Virginia next Monday to lend his support for Ed Gillespie, the former RNC Chairman who is the Republican nominee for governor there in what has developed into a competitive and contentious contest.
Gillespie is in a tight race against Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) and Rubio’s visit is part of a final get-out-the-vote push before the November 7th election.
President Donald Trump‘s approval ratings in Virginia are currently hovering below 40 percent, and Gillespie has seemed trapped in an uncomfortable dance, seeking to distance himself from a controversial president unpopular in his state while adopting some of his rhetoric and hoping to win the votes of Trump supporters.
Rubio, who promoted the event on his Instagram page, has a base of support in Virginia, especially in the northern part of the state where this event is scheduled. The Florida Senator won Virginia’s northern counties during the 2016 Republican Presidential primary, but Trump had a stronger performance in other parts of the state and would end up narrowly winning the primary. Virginia’s electoral votes went to Hillary Clinton in the general election.
Trump did tweet an endorsement of Gillespie, but there seem to be no plans for him to hit the campaign trail. Instead, Vice President Mike Pence headlined a Gillespie rally recently in the southwest part of the state, where Trump was the overwhelming winner last November and his popularity rating is more positive.
Gov. Susana Martinez (R-NM), America’s first Latina governor, also campaigned for Gillespie this week in northern Virginia, attending a luncheon and several business roundtables with the candidate.
“Senator Rubio and Governor Martinez are strong, conservative leaders and I am thrilled to welcome each of them back to the Commonwealth in the closing weeks of this critically important election,” Gillespie told the Washington Post through a spokesman.
Recent polls show Gillespie with the lead, but a large number of voters remain undecided. A Hampton University poll released on Wednesday showed 41 percent of voters planned to vote for Gillespie and 33 percent for Northam, but 27 percent remained undecided, more than enough to swing the final result. The poll was conducted from October 18th to 22nd of 750 registered Virginia voters who said they were likely to vote on November 7th, including 400 landline and 350 cell phones. The margin of error was +/- 4.2 percent.
Both Gillespie and Northam have garnered controversy for campaign messages criticized as racially divisive. Gillespie ran an ad accusing Northam of being supportive of sanctuary cities and ignoring violence from MS-13, an illegal immigrant gang that operates in the United States as the foot soldiers for the major Mexican drug cartels. Democrats decried the Gillespie ad as racist and pointed out that Virginia did not have any cities that qualified as sanctuary cities, but MS-13 has had a noticeable presence in Virginia for years and the gang has been tied to multiple acts of violent crime. This is the same group that Trump has publicly denounced and said he was considering designating as a foreign terror group.
The Northam campaign attacked Gillespie with a mailer with an image of the recent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville superimposed over photos of Trump and Gillespie, with a caption saying, “On Tuesday, November 7th, Virginia gets to stand up to hate.” Republicans immediately cried foul, noting that Gillespie had immediately denounced the Charlottesville rally, saying that the tiki-torch wielding white nationalists and their racist, anti-Semitic slogans were “evil” and “had no place” in Virginia.
— The Daily Progress (@DailyProgress) October 25, 2017
Then, on Friday, Democrat consultant and former Hillary Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon tweeted another photo from the Charlottesville rally, labeling it a “Live look at an Ed Gillespie campaign strategy meeting.”
Live look at Ed Gillespie campaign strategy meeting: pic.twitter.com/izcs57hZUv
— Brian Fallon (@brianefallon) October 27, 2017
Fallon’s tweet was ridiculed as over-the-top and unfair. The Washington Examiner‘s Becket Adams called Fallon a “faithful foot soldier” for the Democrats who “lacks the capacity to shame” as evidenced by this “extremely lazy” attack on Gillespie. As Adams noted, Gillespie had been praised by local Virginia media for his “strongly-worded response” to the events in Charlottesville.
“Gillespie himself has said and done exactly the right things here,” wrote the editorial board of the Roanoke Times. “Vote against Gillespie because of his views on tax policy, if you want, but don’t vote against him because of anything related to Charlottesville. He and Northam are on the same side here.”
In the end, it’s clear that this race is far from over, and as Gillespie seeks to lock in his supporters and win over those undecided voters, support from prominent Hispanic Republicans like Rubio is especially welcomed.
The trip is likely to benefit Rubio too, who at only 46 is likely to consider running for President again, and helping Republican allies around the country get elected will build on his base of support. Earlier this year, Rubio signed fundraising emails for Rep. Karen Handel’s recent victory in the Georgia special election, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), as well as Gillespie. His leadership PAC, Reclaim America, has contributed to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Ohio Treasurer and Senate candidate Josh Mandel.
Rubio is also building his network at home, appearing on the campaign trail and providing fundraising and social media support to his endorsed candidates in the Sunshine State, including State Rep. Mike Miller, who is running in a heavily contested Republican primary to challenge Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) for the Seventh Congressional District.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.