(CNN)The Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville, Virginia — the removal of which helped spark the protests that turned violent last weekend — is just one example of the hundreds of statutes, monuments, highways and holidays designed to honor the Commonwealth’s Confederate roots.
The controversial connection to Virginia’s Civil War past is quickly becoming a flashpoint in the upcoming race for governor, and the Republican nominee in that race, Ed Gillespie, is at the center of this divide.
Gillespie, a New Jersey native who has lived his adult life in Northern Virginia, does not have a familial connection to the Old South. He has walked a careful line when it comes to the romantic view of the Confederacy that many Virginians both Republican and Democrat hold.
At the height of the Republican primary earlier this year, Gillespie was being pushed hard about his stance on Confederate Monuments by his far right opponent Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chair, Corey Stewart.
Stewart made the protection of these monuments — specifically the Lee monument in Charlottesville — a core tenant of his campaign. He accused Gillespie of supporting the decision to bring the monument down. In response to Stewart’s attacks Gillespie ran targeted digital ads designed to correct his stance on the issue. The ads touted Gillespie’s defense of the monuments and linked to a page on his official website outlining his stance.
“Ed opposes removing the Lee Statue and believes the city council members who voted to spend $300,000 of taxpayer dollars to do so should be voted out of office,” the website read. “But as a conservative, Ed also knows that a governor powerful enough to force one locality to keep a statute is powerful enough to make all localities take them down.”
The digital ads had a very short run and the Gillespie campaign would not disclose how much was spent. The website explaining his position on the monument still exists on his main campaign page, but has been removed from the “Get the Facts” blog where it was originally posted. Gillespie ended up narrowly beating Stewart in a surprisingly close GOP primary. Stewart has already launched a campaign to challenge Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, in 2018.
In the wake of the Charlottesville demonstrations, Gillespie was quick to denounce the white supremacists that attended the rally and used much stronger language, much quicker than his fellow Republican, President Donald Trump did at the time.
“Having a right to spew vile hate does not make it right. It is painful to see these ugly events in Charlottesville last night and today,” said Gillespie on Saturday. “These displays have no place in our Commonwealth, and the mentality on display is rejected by the decent, thoughtful and compassionate fellow Virginians I see every day.”
Gillespie has still yet to directly criticize Trump’s response to the Charlottesville rally. After the President’s controversial press conference on Tuesday where he doubled down on his belief that there were bad actors on “both sides” of the protests, Gillespie sent out another tweet condemning white supremacists, but did not mention Trump.
Gillespie was scheduled to hold a fundraiser with Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday, but the Vice President abruptly pulled out of the event in order to provide flexibility in his schedule in case the President needs his help after a high-level meeting that will take place Friday at Camp David.
But as to the core issue that led to…