WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is endorsing former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie in Virginia’s governor’s race.
Trump attacked Democrat Ralph Northam on immigration issues in a tweet late Thursday, accusing Northam of “fighting” on behalf of violent MS-13 gang members. Trump urged Virginians to vote for Republican Ed Gillespie.
Gillespie — a consummate Washington insider — has sought to keep Trump at arm’s length throughout the campaign while also trying to rally Trump supporters with hard-edged attacks on Northam over immigration.
“I saw it come up on my iPhone, and my thought was ‘my ads must be running in D.C.'” Gillespie said on a phone call with reporters Friday morning.
A Gillespie ad, which Democrats have criticized for its racial overtones, cites a symbolic tiebreaking vote Northam cast in the Virginia Senate against a bill that would have banned so-called “sanctuary cities” in Virginia. Republicans had the vote reconsidered and passed the bill anyway, although it did not become law.
Gillespie offered a relatively lukewarm acceptance of the president’s endorsement on the Friday call.
“I wasn’t aware the president was going to tweet, but I’m obviously not surprised that the Republican president is supportive of the Republican nominee for governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Gillespie said. “I guess I’m a little surprised that it’s news that the Republican president is in support of the Republican nominee for governor.”
Virginia is just one of two states electing governors this year, a swing-state contest viewed as a possible referendum on Trump’s first year in office.
MS-13 has become a target of Trump in seeking support for a broader immigration crackdown.
Northam, a Democrat, responded on Twitter that he’s been expecting Trump’s attack and asked supporters for donations.
Democrats have been trying to link the Republican ticket to the president as part of efforts to drum up support and drive up turnout in the voter-rich areas of Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads.
Gillespie declined to say whether he has any plans to have President Trump join him out on the campaign trail.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.