Photo from Mike Pence Twitter.
Virginia Republican nominee Ed Gillespie appeared at a campaign rally with Vice President Mike Pence at the Abingdon Fairgrounds this past Saturday evening. Gillespie, along with his ticket mates State Senator Jill Vogel and John Adams, campaigned in the heart of Trump country with Pence. The event, which had fewer than 500 attendees, was raucous even though the event was smaller than expected.
The rally began with multiple speakers from the southwest Virginia delegation. State Senators Bill Carrico and Ben Chafin, along with Delegates Pillion, Morefield, O’Quinn, and Kilgore, spoke of and promoted Gillespie.
Others who spoke included Congressman Morgan Griffith and former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore. Griffith, the congressman who represents Abingdon, served as the event emcee for the evening. Along with the southwest Virginia delegation, Griffith spoke highly of both Gillespie and the Trump administration. At times, the speakers went out of their way the extoll the administration in Washington.
Gillespie was also joined by his two running mates, Jill Vogel, candidate for Lieutenant Governor, and John Adams, candidate for Attorney General. Adams spoke of his military service and heavily emphasized Mark Herring’s unwillingness to defend Virginia law.
Vogel aggressively attacked her opponent, Democrat Justin Fairfax, for not campaigning in southwest Virginia and not “sharing Southwest Virginia values.” Vogel also was very supportive of the Trump administration’s policies, and the impact of those policies on southwest Virginia. She was also eager to mention her support of keeping Confederate monuments in place in the Commonwealth, stating, “We should teach history, not erase it.”
Then Gillespie, along with his wife Cathy, took the stage. Gillespie was eager to talk about energy policy, specifically noting how the repeal of the Clean Power Plan was good for southwest Virginia, and talked about sanctuary cities and Ralph Northam’s beliefs on sanctuary cities.
As Gillespie was introducing the vice president, he was eager to talk about how close he and the VP were as friends. Gillespie also stated his support for many of President Trump’s policies including the repeal of the Waters of America Act and the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. Gillespie also voiced his support for the Trump tax cut while also talking about his plan to cut taxes in Virginia, then went into detail about how many times he has campaigned with the VP and his support of the Trump ticket in 2016.
After Gillespie’s introduction, Vice President Mike Pence took the stage. Pence was very eager to not only announce his support for Ed Gillespie but also offered the full-throated support of the White House and President Donald Trump.
After noting his support for the Gillespie-Vogel-Adams ticket, Pence began a “greatest hits” of the 2016 campaign speech. He repeatedly promised that he and President Trump would repeal and replace Obamacare. He also said they would cut taxes for the average American family by $4,000. Pence spoke at length about rebuilding the American military and about how Trump had increased defense spending “more than any president since Ronald Reagan.” Pence also went to great lengths to speak about his faith and how we need to pray for our country to heal.
On a personal note, I was slightly surprised to see Gillespie give such a strong endorsement of the president’s agenda as he seemed to go out of his way to convince the crowd that he backed many of the Trump policies. There are many Republicans who don’t support everything that the President is doing in Washington. It’s almost as if moderate Republicans in this day and age are expected to always support the party while there is an overt attempt to persuade Trump voters for their vote.
Also, I have to admit that as much as I love Southwest Virginia, it’s starting to feel more foreign to me. I grew up in Carroll County which is close to where the event was being held in Abingdon. Politically, socially, and religiously, the place that I grew up is beginning to no longer feel like home.
Trump voters aren’t the same kind of Republican as myself. I was taught that there was a “decorum” and a way to act in public when a dignitary came to town. I was taught that politics was a gentleman’s game and that you were to act, dress, speak, and behave yourself when being political.
However, ever since the emergence of Trump, that belief of politics being a gentleman’s sport is long gone. The people are different. The Republican Party that I loved while growing up in Southwest Virginia is changing and less diverse. I saw someone at the rally show up (mind you, the second most powerful man in the United States government, a guy one heartbeat away from the nuclear launch codes, was at the lectern) wearing a shirt with the sleeves cut off, exposed arms and neck with thousands of dollars worth of tattoos, gym shorts, and tennis shoes.
I’m starting to experience culture shock in my own Republican Party.
It is expected I will vote Republican, I’m told I have to vote Republican. Meanwhile, Trump voters have to be catered to. I have a question: When am I going to get catered to? When are we going to stop worrying about coal (not that I don’t support the coal industry, but demand for coal is down; it’s a given fact), and worry more about finding high paying jobs? When is Ed Gillespie going to try to win over the socially moderate millennials who don’t go to the same church or believe the same thing I do?
I expect the comment section to go berserk. However, I have a serious question for the leaders of my party: How do we build a winning coalition when we ignore moderates?
At this point, there are two distinct types of Republicans. There are Republicans who live in more urban areas with moderate values, and then there are Trump voters from rural areas with conservative values.
The first part of this article is meant to be straight reporting. The second part is my personal opinion. How do we decide which voice in the Republican Party is more important? What would happen if moderate voters decided to stay at home if Republicans fully embrace the Trump Administration? We will soon find out.
Photos by Matt Colt Hall (unless otherwise indicated)