It was a north versus south battle of the vice presidents.
Vice President Mike Pence and former Vice President Joe Biden hit the campaign trail Saturday on behalf of their respective party’s candidates in the heated gubernatorial contest in Virginia.
The race between Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam is one of two governor’s races in this off-off-year. (The other is in New Jersey.) It has gained national attention as a proxy referendum on the Trump administration in a state that is, for the most part, ideologically split along regional lines. Trump voters are concentrated in southern regions while Democrats, who carried the state for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, are found in bigger numbers in the north.
Pence rallied a rowdy pro-Trump, anti-sanctuary city crowd at the state fair in Abingdon, Va., where he told about 400 people he had been sent on a mission from Trump.
He also had a message for any Democrats who might be in the audience. Quoting a tweet by Trump from earlier in the day, Pence said, “The Democrats in the southwest part of Virginia have been abandoned by their party and Ed Gillespie will never let you down.”
“The president and I need allies and partners in states like Virginia,” he confided to those gathered, adding that Gillespie “is as good as they come.”
He went on extolling Gillespie’s bona fides, including being the son of an Irish immigrant, a businessman and a champion of coal mining. But he spent nearly as much time reviewing Trump’s “strong leadership.”
And for Virginians whose economy relies heavily on government defense contracts, he reminded them that the president “signed the largest increase in defense spending in nearly 10 years.”
A spending bill signed by Trump in May increased defense spending by $15 billion, though it also kept funding intact for so-called “sanctuary cities,” which Pence also railed against in his speech.
“Ralph Northam cast the tiebreaking vote against a bill in the state senate against a bill to crack down on sanctuary cities,” Pence said, while his supporters booed.
Biden on the stump
Biden, on the other hand, eschewed large crowds while garnering support for Lt. Governor Northam, who is up by seven points in the race, according to a new poll by the Wason Center for Public Policy.
The former vice president instead spoke on a panel focused on growing jobs and education opportunities in a state with only 3.8 percent unemployment.
In rallying tech and business leaders to support Northam, Biden said the federal government has left a leadership vacuum.
Under the Trump administration, Biden said, “States are going to have to step up in ways the federal government should be stepping up.”
“The only hope for leadership we have is at the state level,” he said, before quoting an unnamed person who said the Trump administration is “unified by incoherence and incompetence.”
Northam has several big-named Democratic players in his corner. He attended a fundraising event with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former President Barack Obama plans to join in on the gubernatorial fray this week. He will appear with Northam at a rally on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Gillespie, who is relying on support from independent voters, had been reluctant to acknowledge Trump’s support until Saturday.
When the Republican nominee was asked by Virginia’s WVEC-TV if he would want the president to campaign alongside him, Gillespie deftly answered the question, responding, “I don’t talk about campaign strategy with anyone, let alone the media.”
He met a similar question asking if he was pleased by the president’s Oct. 5 Twitter endorsement, saying, “I wasn’t surprised he endorsed me.”
With the election just three weeks away, the campaigns are expected to become more intense, especially as both sides strive to win over undecided voters who, at 6 percent of the electorate, could make or break the race.