George Mason University

News at Mason

Virginia gubernatorial campaign managers offer frank insights in post-election forum

November 15, 2017   /   by Buzz McClain

Mark Rozell, Chris Leavitt and Brad Komar

Schar School Dean Mark J. Rozell leads a discussion with Chris Leavitt and Brad Komar, campaign managers for Ed Gillespie and Ralph Northam, at a Nov. 13 post-election forum. Photo by Wanjiku Wainaina of the Schar School.

Some 250 people turned out Monday night for a post-election post-mortem from the campaign managers for Virginia’s gubernatorial candidates at George Mason University’s Arlington Campus.

For 90 minutes Brad Komar, who managed the campaign for Democrat governor-elect Ralph Northam, and Chris Leavitt, manager of Republican Ed Gillespie's campaign, answered questions posed by Mark J. Rozell, dean of George Mason's Schar School of Policy and Government.

Like the gradually escalating campaign itself, the conversation was largely a civil affair until near the end, when Rozell's questions became more pointed.  

When asked if anyone in the Northam camp had previewed a controversial television ad created by the independent Latino Victory Fund depicting a pickup truck bearing a Confederate flag and a Gillespie bumper sticker chasing minority children, Komar said no. Gillespie's digital director immediately shouted "liar!" from the audience as Komar continued to talk.

Both Komar and Leavitt assured Rozell that their intention at the beginning was to keep the messaging focused on issues important to Virginians. That focus shifted immediately after a largely cordial televised debate, co-sponsored by Mason, in mid-September in McLean, Va.  

Leavitt said an ad campaign accusing Northam of "protecting" MS-13 gang members and advocating for sanctuary cities in Virginia might appeal to independents. Instead it appealed to President Donald Trump who inserted himself into the campaign, much to the Gillespie camp's chagrin, Leavitt said.

Later, an audience member asked if the Gillespie team intentionally vilified Latinos. Leavitt said the approach  was "a way to appeal to swing voters in an issue that resonated around the state" as he enumerated cities where minorities had allegedly committed murders.

Komar said the Northam camp was not as vitriolic as the Republicans, to which Leavitt took exception. Leavitt said the "Enron Ed" ad, which recalled Gillespie's previous position as a lobbyist for energy giant Enron Corporation, was a personal attack.

In the end, both former campaign managers said they had no regrets about their campaigns.  

The audience included Mason students, faculty, staff and community members, with another 100 watching a televised live stream.  

“These events are great first-hand opportunities for students to learn about the workings of the political system from the key players,” Rozell said after the forum.

“The gubernatorial debate, the polling partnership with the Washington Post, and the post-election forum put the Schar School at Mason at the front of educating the community about Virginia's electoral campaign system.”

"After Virginia Votes: A Retrospective of the Virginia Governor's Race" was hosted by Mason's Schar School of Policy and Government and the Virginia Public Access Project, a Richmond-based nonpartisan nonprofit that provides transparency in political funding. This was the sixth post-election partnership between Mason and VPAP since 2012.