GOP candidate Ed Gillespie has come from behind to take the lead over Democrat Ralph Northam in the Virginia gubernatorial race, highlighting Democrats’ weakness on sanctuary cities and crime. Onlookers feel his line on crime offers a taste of the GOP’s strategy for the 2018 midterms.

With the successes Attorney General Jeff Sessions has seen tackling illegal immigration and illicit gang activity from crime syndicates, such as MS-13, the GOP believes crime is the policy area upon which they can win. According to RealClear Politics, Gillespie now holds a 2-point lead over Northam, after being down 7 points just last week.

Gillespie’s efforts to link Democratic rival Ralph Northam, the state’s lieutenant governor, to sanctuary cities is part of Gillespie’s large effort to portray Northam as soft on crime. He has made the case in debates and a barrage of TV ads that the policy of protecting illegal immigrants from federal immigration officials has helped spur the rise of the violent Central American gang MS-13.

“MS-13 is a menace, yet Ralph Northam voted in favor of sanctuary cities that let dangerous illegal immigrants back on the street, increasing the threat of MS-13,” the narrator says in one ad.

Sanctuary city policies essentially protect illegal immigrants from federal deportation by barring local law enforcement authorities from notifying federal officials when they come across an illegal immigrant. The Gillespie ad refers to a Virginia bill that tried to prevent local jurisdictions from adopting such policies but never became law.

Given Gillespie’s rise in the polls, it has been shown to be a potent issue for Republicans in one of the nation’s key “purple” states.

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