Both Virginia political parties suspended or altered campaign events scheduled June 14 following a shooting in Alexandria that reportedly left five injured including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. Multiple media outlets reported that at least one congressional staffer was injured as well as multiple Capitol Hill police officers who helped detain the shooter.
The Democratic Party of Virginia cancelled an event at George Mason University bringing together Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the party’s nominee for governor, and fellow candidate Tom Perriello. They were set to be joined by Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez, Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring.
McAuliffe instead spoke at the scene of the shooting in Alexandria at a ball field near T.C. Williams High School where members of the Republican Congressional baseball team were practicing ahead of their game against the Democratic team scheduled for June 15.
“We are praying for swift recoveries for those who were injured and we are thankful for the bravery and quick action of U.S. Capitol Police and local first responders to stop the attacker and treat those who were wounded,” said McAuliffe through a prepared statement. “Virginia public safety officials are coordinating with local responders and we will continue to monitor this situation and make every resource available.”
The shootings come less than 12 hours after both parties completed primaries for their respective nominees for governor, lt. gov. and attorney general. It comes in an era of increasing partisan divide and vitriolic rhetoric exchanged between both parties, and led some to worry that the aggressive words had spurred physical violence.
Members of both parties downplayed the role politics had in the incident and said the shooting presented an opportunity for all people to come together.
“I’m tired of people trying to pit Virginian against Virginian. There are disagreements. That’s the nature of politics and free will. But there are certain things we need to come together around and this is one of those days,” said Ed Gillespie, the GOP nominee for governor.
The Republicans had scheduled a five-city tour across the Commonwealth featuring their three-person ticket. After news broke of the shooting while the trio was at its first stop Richmond, the Republican Party of Virginia announced they would change the second stop from a rally into a prayer session and canceled the remaining three stops.
At the second campaign stop Gillespie was joined on stage by his wife, Cathy Gillespie, Lt. Gov. nominee Jill Vogel and Attorney General nominee John Adams. All four stood somberly as Gillespie gave a brief address to a few dozen party supporters gathered for the event in Centerville. It was followed by a prayer led by Republican 42nd House of Delegates district nominee Lolita Mancheno-Smoak.
“This was profoundly important because of where we were located today in the wake of this terrible tragedy,” Vogel said. “Rather to rally and talk about politics, it was much more important to take a moment to honor those who suffered a terrible tragedy this morning, which has caught everybody truly off guard.”
In Alexandria, McAuliffe said the shooting, which eye witnesses reportedly said involved dozens of rounds from an assault style weapon, was another call for tighter gun control restrictions. Northam called for an assault weapon ban during the primary season, and Democrats have criticized Republican led efforts on gun-friendly laws like the recent removal of the Commonwealth’s law restricting citizens to purchase only one gun per month.
In Centerville, the Republican candidates declined to talk specific policies, instead saying this is a time to unify all Virginians.
“This should never be politicized,” said Vogel, who campaigned in part on her A rating from the NRA. “This is about rallying around and unifying around the people and victims and uniting us. We are one country. In moments like this we rally to each other. Period.”