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For all Virginians

MEMO: The State of Play

To: Interested Parties
From: Chris Leavitt
Campaign Manager, Gillespie For Governor
Date: June 14, 2017
RE: The State of Play


As we begin the general election phase of the 2017 race, the Gillespie campaign is in a very strong position both internally in terms of organization and resources, and externally in terms of the candidates’ positions on the pressing issues facing the Commonwealth.

The primaries left our campaign with a very strong cash on hand figure, and a robust ground game that made more than 800,000 contacts during the primary, powered by over 6,000 volunteers. Now, the operation we have built will turn its attention to the general election. The primaries also placed Ed Gillespie squarely in the center-right of Virginia politics. On the Democratic side, the long, expensive and bitter primary forced Ralph Northam to spend over $4 million, reducing his cash on hand to half of ours, and, more importantly, pushing him far to the left politically. He enters the general election as a candidate who has taken numerous positions that are further to the left than anything previously advocated by successful Democratic gubernatorial candidates like current Governor Terry McAuliffe, and former governors Tim Kaine, Mark Warner and Doug Wilder. As Politico noted, “The Democratic primary to be Virginia’s next governor has been an open race to the left.” (Politico, June 8, 2017) Now, Ralph Northam is stuck there, unable to get back to the center.

Both financially and politically, Ralph Northam’s primary victory was a costly one.

Where the Race Stands: Polling Update

Last week, our polling firm, Public Opinion Strategies, conducted a statewide general election survey of 600 likely voters in Virginia. The survey was conducted June 6‐8, and has a margin of error of ±4.0%. The survey included 240 cell phone interviews.

The poll had three key findings:

  • Ed Gillespie starts with a slight lead over Ralph Northam
  • Ed Gillespie is polling at 46%, while Ralph Northam is at 45%.
  • Ed Gillespie leads Ralph Northam by double digits among independent voters
  • Among independents, Ed Gillespie is polling at 49%, while Ralph Northam is at 37%.
  • Despite Ralph Northam holding a statewide office, more voters know Ed Gillespie
  • Nearly nine in 10 voters (85%) know Ed Gillespie while only six in 10 voters (64%) know Ralph Northam.

It is clear that as the general election campaign begins, it opens as a dead heat. But one candidate positioned himself well for a competitive general election campaign in the Commonwealth, while the other moved far to the left of the state’s electorate. And that will have major ramifications.

Where the Race Stands: On the Issues

The 2017 primaries turned the conventional wisdom of just six months ago on its head. Prior to the entrance of Tom Perriello into the race, it was widely assumed that the Republican Party would have the fierce, angry and extremely ideological primary, while the Lieutenant Governor would simply spend his time raising money and playing to the political middle. What a difference half a year makes.

Ed Gillespie begins the general election right where he began the Republican primary: firmly in the center-right, a very good place to be in a Virginia gubernatorial election. Over the course of the primary, time and time again, Ed Gillespie stayed true to his center-right philosophy:

  • He put forward a responsible plan to cut taxes by 10% for all Virginians, but in a manner that ensures core functions of state government remain safeguarded and fully-funded.
  • While Democrats recklessly opposed natural gas pipelines crucial to future job creation in the state, projects strongly backed by Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe, Ed stood up for these efforts.
  • When both Tom Perriello and Ralph Northam raced far to the left of Governor McAuliffe and previous Democratic governors in attacking and opposing our economically crucial Right to Work Laws, Ed stood up for it, putting him in line with decades of bipartisan policy agreement in the Commonwealth.
  • When once again both Perriello and Northam moved to the left and opposed public charter school expansion in the state, a policy position that even The Washington Post editorial board disagrees with in general, Ed voiced his strong support for bringing more public charter schools to our state so more students would have new opportunities to learn.

Meanwhile, Ralph Northam was pushed far to the left, with Politico reporting at the end of the Democratic Primary, it was “both candidates lurching for increasingly leftward policies.” (Politico, June 11, 2017)

  • Think about previous, recent Democratic gubernatorial nominees: Terry McAuliffe, Creigh Deeds, Tim Kaine, Mark Warner: ALL of them strove to stay near the political center. It was the CORE of their messaging: center-left, responsible leadership
  • Now, fast forward to today
  • Ralph Northam went, in the space of one short Democratic primary campaign, from being a self-described “moderate” to:
  • Not backing his boss, Governor Terry McAuliffe, on economically crucial pipeline projects
  • Calling for a $15 minimum wage that could have significant negative impacts on job creation in the state
  • Bragging about defeating the Right to Work constitutional amendment, and making clear he’d like to see our Right to Work law overturned if he can get a Democratic majority in the General Assembly – again breaking with Governor Terry McAuliffe, and previous Democratic governors
  • Opposing charter school expansion in Virginia
  • Seeking to impose cap and trade policies that would drive up the cost of energy in the state and impede economic development

The Northam campaign can spin it all they want, but this is not where they wanted to end up on June 14th.

And they can click their heels all they want, but they can’t get back to the center-left ever again. Ralph Northam is far to the left of the incumbent Democratic governor, previous Democratic governors and gubernatorial nominees, and, most importantly, the Virginia electorate.

Where the Race Stands: Organization

While the Democrats were busy seeing who could get the farthest to the left, our campaign was uniting Virginia Republicans in a manner rarely seen in the Commonwealth. That work means that, as of this moment, we have $2 million cash-on-hand that we were able to save for the general election, while the Lieutenant Governor has almost completely depleted all of his funds. Historically, this is tremendously important. In 2013 Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli did not have this early cash advantage and it clearly put him at an early disadvantage as the general election got underway. However, when Republicans swept all three statewide offices in 2009, former Governor McDonnell was in a similar position financially to the one we find ourselves in today: he had the resources on hand at the start of the general election to hit the ground running. Bottom line: resources matter and we have them.

We also have an army of supporters who are ready to win in November, and who are ready to work to make that happen. To date we have recruited over 6,000 volunteers, 133 G-Force leaders across the Commonwealth (one for each locality) and collectively, our volunteers made over 800,000 voter contacts in the primary alone. Team Gillespie is in a very strong position moving into the early summer months.

The same Party unity that has enabled us to husband our resources and build such a large volunteer organization has also allowed Ed to bring his message to diverse communities all across the Commonwealth, already. While the Lieutenant Governor was forced into only speaking to liberal groups and voters as Tom Perriello pushed him further and further out of the mainstream, we’ve been communicating with Republicans, Independents and Democrats for months. Lieutenant Governor Northam was forced to cede major ground; ground into which we have made major inroads. Our Bridge Builders organization, a group dedicated to helping the campaign reach out to voters who do not traditionally vote Republican, has already recruited over 1,250 members, and we have launched over 35 different coalitions, in addition to advertising in the Korean and Hispanic media during the primary.


Not all primary victories are created equal. Some nominees emerge stronger. Some emerge weaker. In the case of the 2017 gubernatorial primaries, the Republican process led to a nominee who stands well within the political mainstream of Virginia, and has significant resources on hand to bring his positive vision to the voters of our Commonwealth right out of the gate. The Democratic process pushed their eventual nominee far to the left, and far out of the political mainstream, while also depleting his coffers at the same time. Our campaign enters the general election exactly where we hoped to be at this moment, and ready for the race ahead.