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Sturtevant Ads Feature Doctored Image Of Hashmi Holding Racist Photo

A doctored image of Ghazala Hashmi and Gov. Ralph Northam that appears on Sen. Glen Sturtevant's campaign website.
A doctored image of Ghazala Hashmi and Gov. Ralph Northam that appears on Sen. Glen Sturtevant's campaign website.

Sen. Glen Sturtevant’s campaign website and mailers feature a doctored image of his Democratic opponent and Gov. Ralph Northam holding a racist yearbook photo.

Sturtevant (R-Midlothian) has run TV spots, sent mailers, and Google ads attacking community college administrator Ghazala Hashmi for accepting $25,000 from Northam’s political action committee in June.

Hashmi and most other Democrats called for Northam’s resignation in February after a racist photo surfaced from the governor’s 1984 medical school yearbook page. Over two dozen Democrats have accepted donations from the governor’s PAC in the months since.

The anti-Hashmi page on Sturtevant’s website is accessible through a Google ad that appears when users search Hashmi’s name. The page features an altered image of a smiling Northam and Hashmi, who is Indian-American, holding a large framed photo of a person in blackface and another in a KKK robe. The photo was also sent out in mailers.

The page reiterates attacks Sturtevant has made in mailers and TV commercials -- that “we can’t trust Ghazala Hashmi” because she is a “bought-and-paid-for politician.” It repeats a quote from Hashmi to the Washington Post that she was “grateful” for Northam’s help.

Hashmi’s campaign manager, Philip Stein, called the site “another typical, partisan Republican attack.”

“It’s the type of desperate and dishonest negative campaigning we expect from a politician who can’t run on his Republican record of voting to take away health care, diverting funds from public education, and selling out to the NRA,” Stein said in a statement.

Stutevant’s campaign manager, Pablo Cueto, said that the image was intended as a reminder that Hashmi “abandoned her principles for a political contribution.”

“Our mailer, which can be seen on our website, is clearly a lampoon of a nationally known political scandal that highlights my opponent's contradictory stance of calling for Governor Northam's resignation in February and being ‘grateful to have his support’ after accepting a political contribution from his political action committee,” Cueto said in an email.

Most GOP candidates have avoided dwelling on a series of scandals that affected top state Democrats. The September Post story cited by Sturtevant quotes two GOP campaign staffers who say they’ve avoided bringing up the scandals after polling showed they were ineffective.

Sturtevant’s seat is one of two Democrats believe is almost certain to flip even in a low-turnout modellings of election results, according to an internal party memo seen by VPM. The district voted for Northam over Republican Ed Gillespie by 15 points in 2017.

Heather Evans, a professor of political science at University of Virginia at Wise who has studied negative ads, said her research and others have shown a rise in that genre of political influencing.

“If you feel like you’re going to lose, if you feel like you’re in a heavily competitive race, you’re going to put these out,” Evans said.

The researcher said she found the ad surprising, and more characteristic of political action committees than campaigns.

“This is negative, but there’s also a very racial element to this ad,” Evans said.   

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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