Avoiding Trump, but Adopting His Divisive Playbook: Will It Work in Virginia?
Mr. Gillespie, who just a decade ago warned his party against the “siren song” of weaponizing immigration, has poured millions into racially tinged television ads and mailings that excoriate Mr. Northam on that issue, as well as Confederate monuments, the restoration of felons’ rights and even football players who kneel during the national anthem.
This onslaught over issues of culture and identity, a mix of the Trumpian tactics of today with the unvarnished appeals from the past in a state defined by race since Jamestown, has appalled Democrats in Virginia and beyond.
The gut-punch approach has left even some Republicans wincing over the spectacle of a former Republican National Committee chairman and New Jersey native trying to win with earnest vows to guard emblems of the Lost Cause and with warnings about menacing Hispanic gangs.
Yet Mr. Gillespie’s strategy has brought him within a few points of Mr. Northam in both public and private polling. A New York Times Upshot/Siena College poll, released on Sunday, showed Mr. Northam with just a three-point lead over Mr. Gillespie, 43 percent to 40 percent.
That has forced nervous Democrats to confront the reality that race, immigration and crime can be a potent mix even in a rapidly suburbanizing state where Hillary Clinton won by more than five points last year and where, overall, the president remains deeply unpopular.
“I don’t think it will work in Virginia, but I just don’t know,” said Representative Robert C. Scott, Virginia’s first black congressman since Reconstruction.
Should Mr. Gillespie win or narrowly fall short, he will have handed 2018 candidates in competitive races a playbook for Trump-era campaigns: deploy the president’s politics but avoid Mr. Trump himself.