Republican Ed Gillespie and Democratic Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam
Republican Ed Gillespie and Democratic Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam are running in this year’s closely watched race for Virginia governor. (Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

President Trump has been a presence in Virginia’s contest for governor since before the candidates were even set, but he has now roiled the race by jumping in directly and attacking the Democratic nominee through his preferred method: a nighttime tweet.

“Ralph Northam, who is running for Governor of Virginia, is fighting for the violent MS-13 killer gangs & sanctuary cities. Vote Ed Gillespie!” Trump tweeted to his 40 million followers at 9:58 p.m. Thursday.

Coming four weeks before Election Day, it marked the president’s first foray into the race, which is the nation’s marquee statewide election this year and is being closely watched by the national parties as a hint of what may come in the 2018 midterms.

While Trump has endorsed other candidates in special elections this year, none of those endorsements has taken place in a true swing state that could test the president’s political strength or his effect on the GOP agenda on the state level.

Virginia has posed a particularly tricky challenge for Gillespie, who has struggled to energize Trump supporters without alienating moderates and independents. He needs those voters to overcome a Democratic base that is united behind their candidate, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, and motivated to vote on Nov. 7.

Trump is deeply unpopular in Virginia, the only Southern state that Hillary Clinton won last year.

The president’s tweet immediately set off speculation about whether Gillespie, a longtime establishment Republican who ran the Republican National Committee and worked for President George W. Bush, had turned to the man who has upended the traditional GOP for help.

Gillespie said he neither sought the president’s endorsement nor asked him to tweet on his behalf.

Read the full story from The John Fredericks Report.