President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Thursday night to endorse Republican Ed Gillespie for governor and attack Democrat Ralph Northam.
“Ralph Northam, who is running for Governor of Virginia, is fighting for the violent MS-13 killer gangs and sanctuary cities. Vote Ed Gillespie!” Trump tweeted.
The president’s foray into the race adds a new dimension to the contest about a month before the Nov. 7 election.
Virginia is the only Southern state that Trump did not carry in November. His approval rating in the state was below 40 percent in recent polls.
While former President George W. Bush will appear with Gillespie at a fundraiser in Richmond this month, as yet there is no word about a Trump campaign event with Gillespie.
In response to the president's endorsement, Northam tweeted: "TBH (to be honest) I've been expecting this" and provided a link where his supporters could donate to his campaign.
In immigration-themed TV ads, Gillespie has sought to draw attention to violent crimes tied to the gang MS-13 by featuring ominous photos of tattooed Hispanic men. One highlights the gang's motto: "Kill. Rape. Control."
A new mailer that Gillespie approved accuses Northam of wanting to make “life easier for illegal immigrants.”
The flier promises that Gillespie will “crack down” on illegal immigration and claims that Northam, Virginia’s lieutenant governor, “supported restoring rights to illegal immigrants who committed crimes.”
That was a reference to data errors that occurred when Gov. Terry McAuliffe took executive action to restore civil rights to more than 206,000 felons. McAuliffe’s list at one point included a sex offender who had been deported to Peru. The McAuliffe administration corrected the errors.
Under the headline “Liberal Ralph Northam stands with illegal immigrants,” the flier says Northam supports in-state tuition and driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants and that he cast a “deciding vote in favor of sanctuary cities.”
There are no sanctuary cities in Virginia, which Gillespie has acknowledged publicly.
“Ed Gillespie’s desperate, negative campaign has adopted the Donald Trump playbook. So, it’s no wonder that Donald Trump endorsed Ed Gillespie’s divisive campaign tonight,” said Jared Leopold, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association.
“The facts are clear: Ed Gillespie will not stand up to Donald Trump on policies that harm Virginians. Now that Gillespie has Trump’s official endorsement, we look forward to seeing them proudly campaign together this month.”
During a Sept. 19 debate with Northam in Fairfax County, Gillespie repeated his stance that he would welcome the president's support in the contest, but in speaking with reporters afterward, he declined to say whether he would invite Trump to campaign with him.
Northam referred to the president as a “narcissistic maniac” while fending off former Rep. Tom Perriello in a June primary.
But in a TV ad out this week, Northam says he would work with the president when it is in Virginia’s interest.
"As a doctor, nobody ever asks if I'm a Democrat or a Republican," Northam says in the ad. "They just want my help. So if Donald Trump is helping Virginia, I'll work with him."
Northam says in the ad that he "stood up to Donald Trump" on issues such as cutting funding for schools and "taking away health care from thousands of Virginians."
Gillespie and Northam meet in their third and final debate on Monday in Wise County in Southwest Virginia.