-- The Virginia gubernatorial election is now officially a week away, and a new ad from a Democratic group in the state is again sparking a bitter war of words between the two campaigns vying for the Commonwealth’s top office.
The minute-long ad -- entitled "American Nightmare" -- from the Latino Victory Project features a pickup truck adorned with a Confederate flag and an Ed Gillespie bumper sticker driving aggressively through the neighborhood chasing young minority children fleeing in terror.
The ad drew swift condemnation from both the Republican National Committee -- which said it showed Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam's campaign was in "total panic mode" -- and the Gillespie campaign.
"Ed Gillespie has focused his campaign on the many policy differences between Ralph Northam and him, but sadly the Northam campaign and its allies have launched a desperate smear campaign against Ed in the closing days of this election," Gillespie campaign manager Chris Leavitt wrote in a statement.
"The lieutenant governor was roundly rebuked for exploiting imagery from the tragedy of Charlottesville for political points. Now his allies have reached a new low with a disgusting, vile television ad seeking to instill fear in our children with that same imagery. This is not an attack on Ed Gillespie anymore. This is an all-out attack on the people of Virginia. This latest ad gives a clear indication of just what Ralph Northam and his national Democratic allies think of all of us, and it’s sickening," the statement continued.
The Northam campaign defended the ad and accused Gillespie of being the candidate attempting to sew division in the race.
"Independent groups are denouncing Ed Gillespie because he has run the most divisive, fear-mongering campaign in modern history. It is not shocking that communities of color are scared of what his Trump-like policy positions mean for them," Northam's press secretary Ofirah Yheskel said in a statement.
Gillespie, the former chairman of the RNC, has taken steady heat over his controversial ads highlighting the threat of the MS-13 gang in Virginia, as well as ads accusing Northam of supporting policies that allow sex offenders to have their gun rights restored.
The Northam campaign responded to Gillespie's attacks, releasing an ad late last week saying Gillespie's charges are "false."
Recent polls have shown Northam with a widening lead as the campaign heads into its final week, but most observers believe that the race will likely remain tight.
The race is the only competitive gubernatorial race in the country this year, and it is considered an early barometer of how the Trump presidency will factor into the 2018 midterm elections.