The Republican Party of Virginia deleted tweets Wednesday saying the Democratic nominee for governor was dishonoring his “family’s heritage” by calling for the removal of Confederate monuments.
Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who won his party’s gubernatorial primary, has called for monuments lionizing the Confederacy to come down, and in response, the Virginia GOP fired off a pair of tweets Wednesday that generated ire online.
The party wrote: “.@RalphNortham has turned his back on his own family’s heritage in demanding monument removal (1/2)” and “Shows @RalphNortham will do anything or say anything to try and be #VAGov – #Pathetic 2/2”
Northam said earlier this year he recently discovered his own ancestors were slave owners.
Northam responded to Wednesday’s tweets and turned the conversation to his Republican opponent Ed Gillespie.
“I feel fine about turning my back on white supremacy. How does @EdWGillespie feel about the president’s position?”
The state party deleted its tweets and issued a new one apologizing and saying the messages had been interpreted incorrectly.
David Abrams, a spokesperson for the Gillespie campaign, said in a statement the party was right to apologize for the tweets and take them down.
“Though Ed disagrees with the Lieutenant Governor on the issue of statues, he knows we can disagree on issues like this without devolving into divisive rhetoric,” the statement said.
The Virginia GOP declined to comment further to CNN about the tweets. State GOP executive director John Findlay told the Washington Post the messages were not about standing with slaveholders, and argued popular opinion was on their side of the issue.
“We said that Ralph Northam is turning his back on his heritage and family,” Findlay told the Post. “It is because his great-grandfather fought for the side of the Confederacy and was wounded during the Civil War.”
The debate over what to do with Confederate monuments has gripped much of the nation, with President Donald Trump responding to racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in part by defending the monuments.
But it has emerged, even prior to Charlottesville, as a significant issue in the Virginia governor race, where the candidates are vying to lead a state once at the heart of the Confederacy.
Northam has said the statues should come down and tried to tie Gillespie to Trump, while Gillespie has said the statues should stay.