It's the homestretch of the election season and money is pouring in, campaigners are knocking on doors and politics are heating up.
The Democratic Party of Virginia announced a website Thursday cataloging the controversial deleted tweets of the Republican nominee for chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. The attempt to discredit John Gray by the DPVA is not uncommon even in a local election, according to political analysts.
“October is the cruelest month in politics,” said Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington. And as elections draw nearer, political attacks will be on the rise, he said.
Gray’s deleted tweets surfaced in September as his political opponent, Democrat Ann Wheeler, and her team found a line-item on his campaign finance disclosure that paid $30 to a service called Tweetdeleter to scrub his account of tweets considered inflammatory and offensive.
The website, 50ShadesofJohnGray.com, features a gallery of the tweets in a series of monochromatic gray boxes, a nod to the erotic romantic drama “50 Shades of Gray.” Boxes are categorized by Gray’s tweets on race, guns, religion, Hillary Clinton, liberals, immigration, Donald Trump, Corey Stewart, and “more crazy tweets.”
It launched with the intent of ensuring that voters in Prince William County “knew the full extent of John Gray’s bigotry,” according to an email from Grant Fox, DPVA press secretary.
Gray was contacted for a response to the website and the press release. In an email he responded, “No comment. Repeat: No comment.”
Gray issued an apology for his tweets earlier this month.
Local elections are always fairly intense, according to political analyst Bob Holsworth. However, the intensity has ratcheted up this year because of state-level elections. “The parties are trying to find whatever advantage they can,” Holsworth said.
Holsworth referred to the board of supervisors election in Prince William County as a “two-for-one” for the Democratic party: They hope to both beat Gray in the election and generate commentary on the Republican party, using Gray’s own tweets against him.
Farnsworth said tweets are effective vehicles for attacking political opponents. "What we have here is an innovative way to try to turn one's combative remarks back on the sender,” he said.
Prince William County is important on state and local levels for both parties, following the Democratic takeover of the county in 2017, when three House of Delegates districts flipped blue and left Democrats with six of the county’s eight House seats.
“Virginia Democrats would love to win the chairman's race and turn the page on Corey Stewart's years at the helm of the county,” Farnsworth said.
Stewart, a Republican, lost to Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine in the 2018 U.S. Senate race and was rejected by voters in the county he has long served as county board chairman. Stewart has since announced he intends to retire after finishing his current termin December.
Gray seeks the same position previously held by Stewart, who has been criticized for his inflammatory rhetoric. Gray voiced support for Stewart on multiple occasions through a series of tweets that are featured on the DPVA’s website in a section entitled “John Gray on Corey Stewart.”
The upcoming November elections will show whether the county has changed or if recent elections were a backlash against Trump and Stewart.
“There have been candidates who are seemingly outside of the mainstream that have come along before and had support from that same base,” said Quentin Kidd, professor of political science at Christopher Newport University. “And so Democrats basically are thinking, the more attention they can draw to him and his, you know, sort of off the wall outside of the mainstream comments, the more likely they are to engage voters who otherwise might not be engaged.”
Kidd said the tactic of creating a website against political opponents is not uncommon and done by both political parties.
Holsworth said, “in politics, anything that you have put out publicly, ultimately, is fair game for the opposition."
Farnsworth agreed and said political attacks like these websites should serve as a reminder:“Scrubbing one's online past is not as easy as a candidate might hope."