Gillespie, Northam Hope to Impress in Tonight's Final Gubernatorial Debate

Oct 9, 2017

Democrat Ralph Northam, left, shakes hands with Republican Ed Gillespie during the second of their three debates last month in Northern Virginia. The third debate will take place this evening in Wise.
Credit Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via AP, Pool

The third and final debate between the candidates for governor of Virginia will take place tonight. It gives both major-party candidates an opportunity to create one final impression before voters head to the polls next month.

Democrat Ralph Northam has been leading in all the polls since March. That means Republican Ed Gillespie heads into the third and final debate with a clear mission to find a way to change the momentum. Northam on the other hand has an incentive to keep the race exactly where it’s at right now. Geoff Skelley at the University of Virginia Center for Politics says both sides will be watching for the other to screw up.

“Ideally I think for either of them they would like the other candidate to say something really bad because generally speaking that’s when a debate can really impact a race is if some kind of scandal or controversy comes out of a debate.”

So far, that hasn’t happened. Both candidates made it through the first two debates without making any major gaffes. Quentin Kidd at Christopher Newport University says tonight is Gillespie’s last best chance to score a victory against Northam.

“We’ve had, in some ways, a tale of two Ed Gillespies since the last debate. On TV a very aggressive, negative Ed Gillespie. On the stump in person a very collegial nice Ed Gillespie that talks about the economy and jobs.”

Kidd says Gillespie is most likely to go on the attack accusing Northam of supporting sanctuary cities, although both candidates acknowledge Virginia has no sanctuary cities.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.