Gillespie needs to exploit the gap (Updated)

The final debate between Ed Gillespie and Mark Warner generated some sparks.

Right out of the gate, Gillespie took an otherwise tedious question about a North Carolina voter ID law and spun it to a question about Mark Warner’s involvement in the Puckett mess. It was a leap. But he did it. And in the process, he forced Warner to use his rebuttal time to address the issue.

That was smart. It put Warner off his stride and showed that despite having a weekend to craft an airtight response, he and his staff were incapable of doing so. The result was another WaPo headline Warner doesn’t want to see.

For those few who watched the debate, and soldiered on to its conclusion, Warner’s concluding remarks about working to ensure economic opportunity for everyone give Gillespie a further opening to press the Puckett issue home. Everyone Mark? Or just the children of your long-time friends who also happen to be Democratic officeholders looking to swing a deal?

Gillespie needs to go on a statewide tour now asking questions about what Warner said and did. Is that all there is to the story? Remember, it was Gov. McAuliffe who said Puckett’s actions were “despicable.” But what the Governor didn’t say when he uttered this remark was that his chief of staff, Paul Reagan, and Sen. Warner, were also trying to grease the Puckett family’s skids.

McAuliffe knew it all.

Are their actions despicable, too? Does Mark Warner share the Governor’s “disappointment” and disgust with Puckett? Is the good Senator disappointed with his own actions and those of Mr. Reagan, because the Governor has said he’s disappointed in Reagan, too?

Recall that the only reason anyone gives two cents about any of this is because Democrats made a federal case (or investigation) out of Puckett’s resignation. So Gillespie needs to roll with it. He needs to stage press conferences around the state — at the Executive Mansion, at the U.S. Attorney’s office, at the district offices of as many House and Senate Democrats who called for the feds to swoop in and begin investigating as possible — and ask these questions. Take the press along. Say it will take seven days. It’s free media, Ed, the press will have to follow and they will want to because they already have the scent of blood.

And he needs to end his tour at Mark Warner’s Senate office. Go inside, with cameras in tow, and ask to speak with Warner. He very likely won’t be there, but cameras love officious staffers.

This is running a campaign — pressing as hard as possible on an issue that peels the teflon off your opponent, lays his character bare and gives the voters who are following this contest a close-up view of the lengths Virginia Democrats will go for their cronies.

Update — The Scrambling Begins

In this Washington Post wrap-up of Monday night’s debate, both Mark Warner and his spokesman said of the Puckett affair:

Asked after the debate who requested that he intervene, Warner said, “I was contacted by the Democratic Senate leadership and the governor’s office.” Specifically, Warner said, he heard from Paul Reagan, an aide to Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), and from Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) — but not from McAuliffe himself.

McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy did not dispute that Reagan had asked Warner to intervene. He said he did not immediately know if the governor was aware that Reagan had asked Warner to weigh in, but he said there was nothing wrong — apart from any potential job offers — with anyone calling to urge Puckett to stay in the Senate.

Fair enough. But now we have this from the Governor’s camp:

So…Terry throws his chief of staff, who used to work for Warner, under the bus. Again. And he’s basically pushing his old frenemy Mark into traffic, too.

And Dick Saslaw? He’s probably next.

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