Former President Barack Obama condemned Ed Gillespie, the GOP nominee for Virginia governor, for airing a misleading, race-baiting ad tying Democratic opponent Ralph Northam to the notorious MS-13 gang, calling the advertisement “cynical” and “corrosive.”
Appearing at a campaign rally in Richmond, Virginia, with Northam on Thursday, Obama accused Gillespie of pulling from the “same old playbook” of other fear-based campaigns. The former president said the ad, which unfairly accuses Northam of enabling the predominantly Latino gang and its violent actions, “sounds like a fib.”
“It’s a tactic, by the way, that shows Ralph’s opponent doesn’t really think very highly of Virginians, because I don’t think anybody really thinks that somebody who spent his life performing surgeries on soldiers and children is cozying up to street gangs,” Obama said.
“What he’s really trying to deliver is fear,” Obama continued. “What he really believes is if you scare enough voters, you might score just enough votes to win an election. And that’s what makes this kind of anything goes politics just so damaging and corrosive to our democracy. It’s just as cynical as politics gets.”
Obama didn’t mention his successor by name, but some of his remarks could be read as subtle jabs at President Donald Trump, who in recent days has accused the former president of not calling families of fallen soldiers.
Obama referenced his many visits as president to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where many wounded soldiers are treated, and also noted Northam’s work on behalf of those hurt in battle.
“When Ralph was tending to our wounded warriors he wasn’t tending to them as Democrats or Republicans, he was thinking about them as Americans,” Obama said.
“If you have to win a campaign by dividing people, you’re not going to be able to govern them,” he added. “You won’t be able to unite them later if that’s how you start.”
It was one of Obama’s first campaign stops since leaving office in January. He also appeared at a rally earlier Thursday to campaign for New Jersey gubernatorial hopeful Phil Murphy.
Gillespie, meanwhile, is also getting a boost from a former president, George W. Bush, who has fundraised on his behalf. (Gillespie served as an adviser to Bush during his tenure in the White House.)
Recent polls show the Virginian race on track to be a close one, with several surveys giving Northam a slight edge.