Continuing a whirlwind of candidate activity hours before the 2017 Virginia primary elections, Republican candidate Ed Gillespie stumped in Sterling on June 12, looking to continue his campaign’s momentum in one of the Commonwealth’s most strategic jurisdictions. With its large population and reputation as a swing district, Gillespie joins several candidates from both parties fighting for votes on Election Day June 13.
“Loudoun is always important in a statewide race, there’s no two wits about it,” Gillespie said. “It’s critically important not just in the Republican primary but the general election as well.”
Gillespie knows this as well as anyone after his 2014 Senate campaign against Democrat Mark Warner. The former White House staffer and Republican Party Chair came within around 17,000 votes, or less than 1 percent of all votes cast, off upsetting the incumbent. He was buoyed by a strong showing in Loudoun, where he received more votes than Warner.
Loudoun’s importance has continued in this race where all statewide office seekers have made public appearances in the past few weeks and many within the past few days. The front runner in most polls during the duration of the campaign, Gillespie has appeared at multiple rallies, Republican party events and community round tables during the 2017 election cycle. Speaking at the Sterling event June 12 said he would be back in Loudoun after securing the Republican nomination.
In the county with the nation’s highest median household income, Gillespie has stayed consistent with his focus on jobs and the economy. The centerpiece of his campaign is a proposed 10 percent across-the-board tax cut for all Virginians, which he said will create 53,000 new private sector jobs in the Commonwealth and offer greater economic opportunity for people of all incomes.
Gillespie’s opponents in the Republican primary, Prince William Board of Supervisors Chair Corey Stewart and state Sen. Frank Wagner, have both knocked the proposals, saying they won’t create the economic impact Gillespie has promoted. While all three have proposed lower taxes and less regulations, they have centered their campaigns around contrasting issues. Stewart has focused his campaign on rigorous immigration standards and support for Confederate monuments and statues in Virginia, both positions which have drawn skepticism from some Republicans and condemnation from many Democrats.
Alongside economic growth and education reform, Wagner has prioritized transportation funding, which surveys show as among the biggest issues among Loudoun voters. However neither Wagner’s campaign nor Stewart’s has gained momentum, and polls show Gillespie with a sizable lead leading up to the primary election.
That has allowed Gillespie to keep one eye on the November general election, where he would face off against incumbent Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam or former one-term Congressman Tom Perriello. On the trail, Gillespie has called the Democratic primary a race to the left and knocked the party’s establishment-endorsed Northam and the progressive wing supported Perriello as “Left and Lefter.” In the Democratic primary, which polls show as a toss up, both candidates have knocked Gillespie for his ties to establishment Republican figures and have criticized his tax plan, saying it will benefit the wealthy at the expense of the poor.
The same polling shows Gillespie trailing a head-to-head match up against either Democrat, and Virginia hasn’t elected a Republican to one of its statewide offices since 2009. His detractors have also questioned the depth of Gillespie’s support as he campaigns in a era after the election of President Donald Trump. While Trump’s positions on international relations and trade initiatives helped energized conservatives and in turn propel him to the White House, Gillespie has prioritized a more moderate, even-keeled approach to his candidacy centered on more traditional Republican positions like lower taxes on smaller government.
This could prove more problematic in primary elections, which tend to draw significant less turn out than the general election, and typically attracts Republican voters who tend to be more conservative. Even though polls show Wagner and Stewart have less supporters overall, they could derail Gillespie’s nomination if a significant portion of those voters turn out to the polls while the front runner’s stay home.
“Turn out means a ton,” Gillespie said. “We have truly dedicated, committed supporters. I have been campaigning with many, been to church with many and have taken great advice from a lot of folks.”
Along with endorsements from the majority of Republicans in the General Assembly, he boosts the most campaign contributions of any Republican candidate and a 6,000-person volunteer network. Along with a high-profile message of tax cuts and greater economic prosperity, Gillespie told voters in Sterling he is optimistic about his chances hours before Election Day.
“I feel like we have the wind at our back,” Gillespie said, “but we’re not taking anything for granted.”