AN ENCOURAGING aspect of Virginia’s gubernatorial election this fall is the civility of the two candidates, Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam. So far, at least, in pinch-me-I-may-be-dreaming contrast to so many recent state and congressional campaigns around the country, the race, featuring a pair of understated moderates, has been partisan but not personal, and determinedly non-incendiary.
The violence last month in Charlottesville was a litmus test of sorts, which both candidates passed. Speaking about it the other day at an NAACP-sponsored forum in Richmond, both men denounced the racists and neo-Nazis who had paraded through the streets. Mr. Northam also explicitly deplored President Trump’s mealy-mouthed attempt to equate the white supremacists with the counterprotesters who challenged them.
Although Mr. Gillespie avoided criticizing Mr. Trump by name, he made it clear that his view diverged from the president’s. “If you believe that one race is superior to another, or that one religion is superior to another and its believers, that’s worse than immoral,” he said. “That is dehumanizing, and that is the presence of evil in our world. And we have to reject it.”
Mr. Gillespie’s remarks were in keeping with his attempts to distance himself from Mr. Trump, whom he endorsed last year but whose name he has generally avoided mentioning ever since. While he has urged backers to rally to his campaign “if you agree . . . that [Confederate] statues should stay right where they are and we should teach history — NOT erase it,” he has also sought to distinguish conservatism generally from the more sinister and overtly racist groups that constitute part of Mr. Trump’s hardcore base of support.
“They called themselves the ‘alt-right,’ ” he said of the Charlottesville marchers. “They are not on any legitimate political spectrum of left to right. If on a scale of one to 10 — one is the most liberal, and 10 is most conservative — these people are a yellow. They’re not on the same continuum.”
Mr. Northam and Mr. Gillespie have also staked out roughly similar views on “dreamers,” illegal immigrants brought to America as children by their parents. Both men favor allowing them to remain in the country, although Mr. Gillespie, a longtime advocate of immigration reform that would provide legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants, refrained from criticizing Mr. Trump for scrapping the Obama-era program that granted dreamers protection from deportation. Mr. Northam, along with Democrats and some Republicans, deplored the president’s move, which he said “lacks compassion, lacks moral sense and lacks economic sense.”
The relative absence of bomb-throwing between the candidates, despite their differences, reflects Virginia’s status as a centrist state, divided between Democratic-leaning urban and suburban areas and heavily Republican exurban and rural ones. Extremists tend to fare poorly in statewide races. And while neither Mr. Gillespie nor Mr. Northam has shied away from partisan jabs, it’s been refreshing that most of those jabs have landed well above the belt.