Corey Stewart to Gillespie: Don’t Run from Trump

GOP nominee in Virginia gubernatorial race warned against abandoning president and his base

by Brendan Kirby | Updated 19 Jun 2017 at 6:45 AM

Underdog GOP gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie can unify the party and win his Virginia race, but only if he appeals to the base and embraces President Donald Trump, according to the Republican who nearly upset him in Tuesday’s primary.

Corey Stewart, a Prince William County supervisor, fell about a percentage point shy of defeating the better-known and better-funded Gillespie by running as a Trump-like conservative. He told LifeZette the divisions evident in the primary vote can be closed.

"It can be done," said Stewart, who served as Trump's presidential campaign chairman in Virginia last year. "But he's got to gin up the base. They're looking for a fighter. It remains to be seen whether Ed can do that."

David Abrams, a spokesman for the Gillespie campaign, told LifeZette via email the nominee supports Trump. But he declined to say whether he will campaign with the president.

"Ed's focused on policies to grow Virginia's economy and create new, good-paying jobs," Abrams wrote. "He welcomes the support of President Trump, Vice President [Mike] Pence, Republican governors and anyone else who wants to join with Virginians across the commonwealth who are excited by the prospects of winning in November and get Virginia growing again, but we don't disclose our campaign strategy in the press."

Gillespie, a former chairman of both the state and national Republican parties, nearly shocked Democratic Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) in the 2014 election. Considered a big underdog when the campaign began, Gillespie lost by just 17,723 votes in a year in which Republicans scored enough wins across the country to gain control of the Senate.

Most handicappers again cast Gillespie as the underdog. Participation in the Democratic Party primary surged over the 2013 race, and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam coasted over a left-wing opponent backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Polls in April and May showed Northam with healthy leads in hypothetical general-election matchups.

But the Gillespie campaign last week touted an internal poll by Public Opinion Strategies conducted between June 6 and June 8 showing Gillespie leading Northam by a point. An independent survey released Friday by Harper Polling seems to confirm that. It had the race tied, which each candidate claiming 46 percent of the vote.

What's more, campaign manager Chris Leavitt argued in a memo that the primary forced Northam to burn cash and move too far to the Left, outside the Virginia mainstream.

"Not all primary victories are created equal," he wrote. "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."

Stewart said Gillespie will be making a mistake if he ignores issues important to conservative voters. He said the nominee should make cracking down on sanctuary-city policies central and vow to protect the state's Confederate monuments. He downplayed the significance of the disparity in primary turnouts.

"He needs to welcome President Trump on the campaign trail,"Stewart said. "Get your own base out."

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