Virginia GOP embraces bigotry in desperate bid to save majorities

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The state Republican Party is using the same hate-filled playbook that failed in 2017 and 2018.

Virginia Republicans are launching xenophobic and anti-LGBTQ attacks on Democratic candidates, two weeks before off-year elections in the state to determine control of the legislature.

On Nov. 5, Virginians will choose all 100 members of their House of Delegates and all 40 members of the state Senate. With Republicans holding a bare majority in each chamber, Democrats have a strong chance at winning both chambers for the first time in decades.

Over the past several days, the Republican Party of Virginia and its candidates have reverted to Donald Trump-style bigotry in hopes of scaring people into voting for the GOP.

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One attack mailer was actually sent out by the state party itself.

Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler (D), one of the first Asian American and Latinx women ever elected to the Virginia legislature, was attacked in a particularly vicious ad approved by her Republican opponent Shannon Kane and paid for by the Republican Party of Virginia.

On one side, the mailer shows a fake image of Convirs-Fowler holding a sign that says "illegal immigrants are welcome here." On the other, it places her face along side an image of three tattooed gang members in El Salvador, over the words "Extremist Kelly Fowler. Weak on illegal immigration. Supporting sanctuary cities. Putting safety at risk."

The ad cites her support for Gov. Ralph Northam's (D) veto of a "sanctuary cities" bill. That bill would have banned sanctuary cities, which do not actually exist anywhere in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

In a neighboring district, Del. Rocky Holcolmb (R) also sent out mailers falsely accusing his Democratic challenger, Alex Askew, of being in favor of "extreme policies that make Virginia Beach less safe" including "sanctuary cities, which will put illegal immigrants who commit crimes back on the streets."

On Wednesday, Del. Danica Roem (D), a stepmom and the first openly transgender lawmaker in Virginia history, debated her virulently anti-LGBTQ opponent Kelly McGinn. After McGinn attempted to erase Roem by saying, "It's time to send in a mom. We need more moms in the General Assembly," Roem noted that she too fills that role.

The local county Republican committee then tweeted a transphobic response to Roem from its official account.

"Danica closes the debate claiming to be a mom. Is there a new definition for that term as well?" the account wrote.

Roem responded on Thursday, stating that either the Prince William County GOP "is blatantly transphobic or they don't recognize step-moms as moms."

"Either way, it's a *bad* look and their candidate's about to lose big in 12 days," she wrote.

(Roem later announced on Thursday afternoon that the "transphobic tweet from the [Prince William County Republicans] sure did backfire: we just raised $1,000 before noon." That total had climbed to more than $1500 at the time of publication.)

The Prince William County Republicans' own nominee for county board chairman, John Gray, has a long history of racist and Islamophobic slurs. On his Facebook page, he has posted images of tattooed Salvadoran gang members along with warnings to "Keep Prince William County SAFE" by voting Republican.

"Racism and bigotry is a feature, not a bug, when it comes to the Virginia GOP," Grant Fox, press secretary for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said in an email on Thursday. "They ran these same types of ads in 2017 and 2018 and got annihilated at the polls. We're happy to teach them the same lesson a third time."

The blatantly bigoted attacks are nothing new for the Virginia Republicans, who have regularly used them to gin up their base turnout. In 2017, Republican gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie ran xenophobic ads accusing his opponent, Northam, of aiding the dangerous MS-13 gang as it worked to "Kill, Rape, Control" people.

After he lost badly, Gillespie complained that he did not want to run a race focused on "public safety" but felt he had to in order to "sway votes."

"Clearly [the ads] didn't work," he acknowledged.

Last year, the state's Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, neo-Confederate Corey Stewart, also attempted unsuccessfully to convince voters to join him in supporting Trump's efforts to "stop the illegal alien invasion."

John Findlay, executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia, defended the recent mailers in an email on Thursday afternoon.

"The mailer cites Kelly Fowler's votes for sanctuary cities and for providing college tuition to illegal aliens. None of the facts on the mailer are in dispute," he wrote.

Findlay also rejected the idea that it or his party's candidates were race-baiting or anti-LGBTQ, before launching another transphobic attack on Roem.

"How exactly is Danica Roem a mother? If there was a fact check on that statement it would be false," he claimed.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.