RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — With just five weeks until the General Election, Virginia’s gubernatorial candidates continue to duke it out via campaign ads.
Political analyst Richard Meagher said new ads don’t necessarily sway voters, but they can be telling.
“Ads can at least let you know what kind of story the campaign is trying to tell,” said Meagher. “And whether that story changes.”
On Tuesday, Democrat Ralph Northam released a new ad. It’s called “Refuses.”
During the 30-second spot, Northam spends the majority of the time talking about President Donald Trump. He knocks him for proposing cuts to school funding and for his views on health care.
“I’ve stood up to Donald Trump on all of it,” Northam says, addressing the camera. “Ed Gillespie refuses to stand up to him at all.”
Meagher said this ad, which aims to tie Trump to Republican Ed Gillespie, is consistent with the message Northam has been sending throughout his campaign.
“It’s the same story. The story is Ed Gillespie is Donald Trump, Donald Trump is Ed Gillespie, and if you don’t like one, don’t vote for the other,” he said.
On Tuesday, the Republican Governors Association (RGA) said the story isn’t all the same.
In the new ad, Northam says, “If Donald Trump is helping Virginia, I’ll work with him.”
RGA calls it a “flip-flop.”
“Not only is this a major reversal of messaging for Northam’s campaign, but it’s also a direct copy and paste of what Republican gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie has said all along about working with the President for the benefit of Virginia, which Northam and Democrats have repeatedly attacked him for doing,” RGA said in a statement.
Meagher said there is a stark difference in Gillespie’s latest ad.
“Before, the campaigns have been relatively, I don’t want to say nice to each other exactly, but they’ve been relatively civil,” said Meagher. “But these new ads from Gillespie, they’re harshly negative.”
The latest Gillespie ad launched two weeks ago. The ad is titled “Safer Communities.”
The ad claims Northam’s policies are dangerous, increasing the threat of gang MS-13.
“Ralph Northam voted in favor of sanctuary cities that let dangerous, illegal immigrants back on the street,” an announcer says in the ad.
Meagher said it’s less moderate than his earlier ads.
“Previous ads from the Gillespie campaign were more oriented toward moderate voters, independents, Democrats, establishment Republicans — people who are concerned about economic issues, middle way, purple Virginia voters,” said Meagher. “But this latest ad is conservative red meat.”
He said the tactic could be to solidify the base.
“It’s almost like Gillespie has given up on reaching out to the middle,” said Meagher. “The strategy there is, if I can turn out Republicans in large numbers in an off year, maybe I can overcome this whole anti-Trump energy on the Democratic side.”
In a release about the ad, Gillespie’s campaign manager said, “The first job of a governor is to ensure public safety; keeping communities, schools, businesses and public gathering places safe. As governor, Ed will ensure that sanctuary cities that are a safe haven for violent criminals here illegally are never allowed in the Commonwealth, and he will work to eradicate violent gangs like MS-13.”
Northam’s campaign responded to the “Safer Communities” ad saying, “The ad deliberately conflates the facts and misinforms the public about the lieutenant governor’s commitment to public safety.”
Meagher said he expects to see more money come in from the national Republican Party over the next week or two and a “flurry” of television ads.
“It won’t be as bad as a presidential election year or in previous years in Virginia, but I would expect that viewers are going to see a lot of political ads over the next couple of weeks,” he said.
The General Election is Nov. 7. The last day to register to vote is Oct. 16.