Trump looms large over Virginia governor's race

Virginia was the only southern state to choose Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The president's tweet Thursday night was his first public comment about the Virginia governor's contest between Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam, which will be held Nov. 7.

Gillespie, a longtime lobbyist and former George W. Bush adviser, in a call with reporters today seemed to somewhat downplay the president's endorsement and said he hadn't been aware the president was going to tweet about the race.

"I guess I'm a little surprised that it's news that the Republican president is in support of the Republican nominee for governor,” Gillespie added.

It's unclear to some political observers whether Trump's endorsement will ultimately help or hurt Gillespie.

Gillespie has seemed to be cautious during the campaign about his support for Trump.

Still, the Republican has recently focused on themes that echo the president, such as illegal immigration.

Gillespie released new ads that flash the words “Kill, Rape, Control” across the screen as a hooded figure holding a baseball bat stands menacingly in an empty room with the narrator warning about the threat of MS-13 criminal gang to Virginia.

National Democrats meanwhile pounced on news of Trump’s tweet as an opportunity to tie Gillespie to the president.

The Democratic candidate, Northam, a former Army doctor who is currently the state's lieutenant governor, early in the campaign called Trump a “narcissistic maniac.” But in a recent ad he seemed to take a somewhat more conciliatory approach, saying he’d “work with” Trump if the president is “helping Virginia.”

Virginia has elected only one Republican governor since 1997 and has gone blue in every presidential election since 2008. Most polls conducted this fall have shown Northam with a small lead of between 4 and 6 points.

Only 20 percent of the Republican's TV ads mentioning MS-13 or illegal immigration aired in the Washington, D.C., metro area. In contrast, more than half of his ads that aired in more rural areas of the state like Roanoke and Charlottesville focused on illegal immigration and MS-13, according to data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG),

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