New Chesterfield Police Chief

Obama embraces Northam as Gillespie keeps Trump at a distance

RICHMOND, Va. — On his first day back on the campaign trail since leaving office, former president Barack Obama endorsed fellow Democrat Ralph Northam for Governor of Virginia at a rally in Richmond Thursday evening.

“This is somebody that you will be proud to have as your governor. Ralph’s whole life has been about honest, responsible service to others,” Obama said in front of more than 7,000 supporters at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.

Northam and his opponent Ed Gillespie are close in the polls with neither candidate gaining a lead big enough to push them outside the margin of error. Republican Gillespie has yet to make a public appearance with current president Donald Trump, who endorsed him via Twitter earlier this month.

In his remarks at the rally, Obama criticized Gillespie for his recent political ads which attacked Northam for supporting sanctuary cities and for being “weak” on the gang MS-13.

“It’s a tactic, by the way, that shows Ralph’s opponent doesn’t really think very highly of Virginians,” Obama said. “If he honestly thought these were serious issues he’d offer serious solutions. But he’s not, because what he’s really trying to deliver is fear. What he really believes is if you scare enough voters you might score just enough votes to win an election.”

Former U.S. president Barack Obama speaks at a rally in Richmond for gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam.

Throughout the campaign Gillespie has struggled to distance himself from the Trump administration in an attempt to appeal to a state that voted for Hillary Clinton last November.

Gillespie, who has to appeal to a divided Republican party, is faced with the decision of whether to align himself with Trump and risk alienating Northern Virginia Republicans, or to ignore the president’s endorsement and consequently weaken the unity of his party. But through his attacks on Northam, Gillespie has been able to tighten the polls.

In his opening remarks, Gov. Terry McAuliffe applauded the unity of the Democratic party in the race.

“On the other side, Ed Gillespie is treating the president of his party like a communicable disease. They won’t even talk to each other,” said McAuliffe. Gillespie has yet to retweet or comment on Trump’s endorsement, beyond remarking to reporters that he was surprised Trump’s tweets were newsworthy.

Both current Vice President Mike Pence and former Vice President Joe Biden spent the weekend before Obama’s endorsement campaigning for their respective parties in Virginia in an election that is now less than three weeks away.

By Lia Tabackman and Megan Schiffres (Special to WTVR.com)

EDITOR’S NOTE: WTVR.com has partnered with the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students from the project reported this story.