STERLING, Va. ― Democrat Ralph Northam visited a mosque in northern Virginia on Friday, urging worshippers there to vote in next week’s gubernatorial election to reject the “hatred and bigotry” coming from Washington, D.C.
“I want to remind all of you that the U.S. is a country of immigrants,” Northam, Virginia’s lieutenant governor, told the men, women and children attending Friday prayers at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society. “We welcome people to this country. And the travel ban, the Muslim ban, is un-American, is unacceptable.”
All Dulles Area Muslim Society is one of the largest mosques in the United States. It regularly hosts political candidates, but it does not endorse them. Ed Gillespie, Northam’s Republican opponent, also stopped by to speak there this year.
This week, two federal judges struck down the latest iteration of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which restricts people from a handful of mostly Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. They said the ban appeared to be a veiled, unconstitutional attempt to bar Muslims based on their religion ― a proposal Trump explicitly called for during last year’s presidential campaign.
In his brief remarks on Friday, Northam, who is a pediatrician, stressed the need to give kids a quality education and affordable health care. He also noted that he had protested against Trump’s first travel ban in February at nearby Dulles International Airport.
Northam’s introductory speaker was far more blunt about the ban.
Robert Maro, an activist who stood alongside the lieutenant governor and several Virginia House delegates, asked worshippers in the prayer room to raise their hands if they opposed the idea of banning Muslims coming into the U.S. A few arms went up, but most of the room stayed seated, listening or engaged in prayer.
“I see people who don’t have their hands raised. Do you not oppose that?” Maro asked.
“Who thinks it’s OK to lie?” he tried again.
Northam was received warmly at the event, shaking hands and greeting mosque leaders who thanked him for coming. It was apparent, however, that some attendees on Friday were showing signs of election fatigue due to the steady stream of candidates who had addressed the Muslim community there in recent weeks.
“They’re getting a little bit jaded, so this is an idea of waking them up,” Maro said later of his attempt to warm up the crowd.
Even as he was busy denouncing Trump for his immigration-related executive actions, Northam faced questions about his own record on immigration on Friday. Democracy for America, a major national progressive group, denounced Northam’s campaign as “gutless” and “racist” this week after Northam said he would sign a bill banning so-called “sanctuary cities,” or municipalities that limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities, should any Virginia locality pursue that status in the future.
The broadside from Democracy for America, which had never supported Northam’s campaign, unleashed an intraparty squabble that threatened his campaign’s momentum just days before Tuesday’s election.
Speaking with HuffPost after the event, Northam insisted that “nothing has changed with my stance on sanctuary cities.”
Northam also continued to distance himself from a controversial ad run by a Latino Democratic group that has since been taken off the air. The ad showed young children of color fleeing a white man in a pickup truck with a Confederate flag and a Gillespie bumper sticker. The Washington Post editorial board, which endorsed Northam, said the ad “had no place” in the race.
“It was their choice to promote that ad. That is not an ad that I would have run,” Northam told HuffPost.
Northam dodged a question, however, over whether he explicitly denounced the ad, maintaining only that he would not have made the decision to put it on air.
“We’re running a positive campaign,” Northam insisted. “[Gillespie] is running a campaign that’s trying to scare people, that’s trying to promote fear mongering, the hatred and bigotry.”