Speaking of ugly politics. The race for Governor of Virginia between longtime Republican operative Ed Gillespie and the Democratic Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam was as hard fought and nasty as everyone anticipated it would be. Gillespie, who for years pressed his Republican colleagues to make the party more welcoming to minorities, took a page out of Donald Trump’s playbook and released an ad linking illegal immigrants and his opponent to the vicious gang MS-13.
Democrats criticized the ad for inflaming racial tensions, and punched back with ads that criticized Gillespie’s background as a lobbyist for corporations like Enron. However, Cristóbal Alex, who leads the Democratic PAC Latino Victory Fund, took major exception to the Gillespie ad, and his group produced their own TV spot that elicited strong reactions from both the left and the right.
Latino Victory Fund’s 60-second ad depicted a white man in a pickup truck with a Confederate flag and a Gillespie bumper sticker chasing a group of minority children and ended with images of torch bearing white nationalists on television with the voice over asking whether this is the America that Donald Trump and Ed Gillespie want. Alex says that he wanted to send the message that, by borrowing the lexicon of white supremacists and refusing to disavow racist symbols, Gillespie made his campaign a haven for hate.
The Latino Victory ad was called “vile” by the liberal leaning editorial board of the Washington Post and not surprisingly White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused the ad of “stoking political racism.”
Alex said he understood the backlash but remained defiant. “Never had a Latino organization been so aggressive in its defense of our community. When facing vicious, racist attacks, we usually turn the other cheek or point our finger at the bully. This time we threw a jab to the throat. And we will continue to stand up to these attacks in the future.”
Did the tactic work? One poll showed that about half of white people who saw the ad said it made them feel less enthusiastic about Gillespie, and Northam won the election by a wider margin than what was predicted – so perhaps. Two things are for certain: the partisan battles will continue to intensify, and Latino Victory will be one of the more influential PAC’s in 2018.