The good, the bad and the unknown in Virginia’s gubernatorial ads

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The political ads are back, coating Virginians’ television screens like spring pollen. And just like the pollen, the ads can irritate the nose and redden the eyes.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Perriello has a couple of ads out. One, called “The President,” makes a  to Democratic primary voters and links him closely to former president Barack Obama.

A jarring Perriello ad called “” takes aim at congressional Republicans attempting to unravel the Affordable Care Act and highlights his support for the original law during his single term in office.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has a couple of ads in circulation. One called “” is the soft pitch. Like the Perriello ad, it links Northam to another Democrat — in this case, Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

But where the Perriello pitch features President Obama lauding Perriello’s fight against Wall Street, and for the little guy, Northam pushes the Virginia angle, and specifically, his backing for abortions rights and health care and his standing against the NRA.

A second Northam ad, “,” features the candidate speaking directly to us. It identifies Northam as a pediatrician first, then as statewide officeholder. It covers much of the same ground as the “Principle” ad, but it has Northam turning his fire against President Trump.

“I’m listening carefully to Donald Trump,” Northam tells us, “and I think he’s a narcissistic maniac.”

Northam assures us that “Whatever you call him, we’re not letting him bring his hate into Virginia.”

The “narcissistic maniac” line is something of a staple for Northam. And, given that his audience is Democratic primary voters, the line probably makes sense, just as Perriello’s bear hug of Barack Obama in the “president” ad.

Bottom line: They work for the primary.

The Northam and Perriello ads put them firmly inside the “resistance” camp. That may be a Democratic safe space during the primary, but the challenge will be when they take that message outside the camp’s walls.

That brings us to the Republicans, who have been searching for a message they can take outside their own walls for almost a decade.

GOP gubernatorial front-runner Ed Gillespie has a  in circulation that touts his campaign’s central idea: a 10 percent tax cut.

This ad reflects the dynamics of the Republican primary. Gillespie is ahead and is likely to win, so he can take a more general election tack in his messaging.

We see sweeping images of the Virginia countryside and Gillespie talking to average folks and a couple of reporters (though the campaign  for how those reporters’ comments on his tax plan were used).

What we neither see nor hear is Donald Trump.

Does that sell in a Republican primary? Considering Trump only  Virginia’s 2016 presidential primary, and Gillespie is discussing Trump in general, Gillespie has made a bet the president doesn’t matter. Virginia Republicans want a win, not a sideshow.

And as Gillespie’s narrator says in his ad (just as Gillespie has said on the stump), the aim is to be a “governor for all Virginians.”

In any other election, that would be fairly solid message. Maybe a bit empty and certainly not remotely close to former Gov. Jim Gilmore’s “no car tax” mantra from 1997.

But Gillespie’s TV pitch lacks motivation, which ads for Northam and Perriello have in abundance.

Their election circumstances are different from Gillespie’s. The Democrats are in a competitive race. They are fighting over the small pool of voters who show up for June primary elections.

And both have established positions on Trump that can’t be walked back in a general election.

Gillespie is pretending Trump doesn’t exist, focusing on Virginians’ wallets, instead.

The approaches on both sides have risks. But Gillespie’s is somewhat larger, given that he cannot avoid Trump forever.

Democrats won’t allow it. And neither may Trump.

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