When the Washington Post says you have a problem… then wow — you really have a problem.  From Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve with the WaPo’s Daily 202 Blog:

THE BIG IDEA: Democrats have a real problem in rural America, and it was on display in the third and final Virginia governor’s debate last night.

In the heart of coal country, at the University of Virginia campus in Wise, the moderator asked Ed Gillespie about schools. The Republican nominee quickly pivoted to talk about coal. He celebrated the Trump administration’s announcement that Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan will be rescinded and warned that his Democratic opponent, Ralph Northam, will try to put a Virginia version in effect if he gets elected. He then promised repeatedly to reinstate a coal tax credit. 

Rather than push back, Northam — the lieutenant governor — talked about pre-K and K-12 education.  Then the moderator asked him about the Clean Power Plan. He grew visibly uncomfortable and gave a halting answer that both nodded to the importance of coal and called for embracing renewable energy. “Coal is very important to the economy in southwest Virginia. I understand that,” he said. “So, I will do everything that I can to support the coal industry. … At the same time, we have a great opportunity.” He explained that renewables like wind and solar are “a win-win” because they could bring the jobs of the future. “At the same time, it would move us to cleaner energy and a cleaner environment,” he said.

What’s more brutal and tragically underreported is the fact that embattled Democratic nominee Ralph Northam admitted before millions of Virginians that yes indeed — McAuliffe cancelled a meeting with Virginia law enforcement over politics.  From Philip Wegmann over at the Washington Examiner.

Meanwhile, Graham Moomaw remarks on how the debate was remarkably Trump-free, an oddity given Northam’s “narcissistic maniac” approach to Trump after backtracking on those comments in statewide advertisements, then doubling down on same after reacting to Gillespie’s MS-13 ads:

A sharper tone emerged when Gillespie said that, as lieutenant governor, Northam has been a member of the Center for Rural Virginia board for years but hasn’t shown up to a single meeting.

“He did not show up,” Gillespie said. “I will make it a priority.”

Seizing a chance to contrast his personal bio with Gillespie’s, Northam said he had “showed up for this country” by serving in the U.S. Army, treating wounded soldiers during Desert Storm and serving in the Virginia Senate.

“While I’ve been showing up and serving the commonwealth of Virginia, you’ve been a K Street lobbyist in Washington,” Northam said. “So the only time you have showed is when you get paid.”

Gillespie said he “did show up” for the clients of his former company, once considered one of the top bipartisan lobbying and media firms in Washington, emphasizing that he was “effective on their behalf.”

“You’ve got 8.4 million clients, Lieutenant Governor Northam. I’m one of them,” Gillespie said.

It really was the KO punch that Gillespie had been looking for in a clearly rehearsed moment in which Northam’s handlers simply failed to prepare their candidate. Truly a soul-stealing moment for any political pugilist — and Northam’s handlers let him walk right into the punch.

In a debate where the media has now universally panned the contest of ideas as 3-0 to Gillespie?  Northam’s low-energy performance might be the last straw.