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Story highlights

The campaign is not admitting that Virginia is no longer in play

Trump's allies in Virginia remain aggravated by the way the Trump Team has handled the news

Washington CNN —  

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is pulling resources out of battleground Virginia, effectively ceding the state to Hillary Clinton and stunning staff members who have been working in the commonwealth, according to a GOP operative.

Trump has been trailing Clinton in polls in Virginia for weeks, but a Trump staffer surprised team members in the Old Dominion State with the news on a conference call Wednesday evening with GOP operatives, the Republican National Committee’s victory effort and campaign staff.

As the staff was on a conference call ticking off campaign items about door knocks and phone calls, a Trump staffer interrupted by saying, “You haven’t heard the news that we are leaving Virginia?” according to the operative, who summarized the staffer’s comments.

“It was absolutely a broadside,” the operative said.

The campaign is not admitting that Virginia is no longer in play. However, on Thursday, it did release a statement acknowledging that they are pulling staff and resources.

“We remain absolutely committed to winning in Virginia. While we’re reallocating some of our staff strategically to accommodate early voting in nearby priority states such as North Carolina, our campaign leadership and staffing remains strong in Virginia,” wrote John Ullyot, the deputy political director for communications for the Trump campaign.

He confidently continued: “Together with the RNC and the state party, we will have all the resources we need to re-take the commonwealth at the presidential level in November, as historically early voting in Virginia is much less of a focus for both parties than in some other states such as North Carolina.”

Despite the campaign’s assurances, Trump’s allies in Virginia remain aggravated by the way the Trump Team has handled the news.

According to the GOP operative, John Whitbeck, the chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, was “furious” with the way Trump staffers dumped the news on their Virginia colleagues Wednesday evening.

David D’Onofrio, the communications director for the Virginia state party, declined to comment on the Trump campaign’s decision-making. He said that the state party will continue its work.

“We’re full steam ahead with our Team Virginia efforts that are working up and down the ticket to make sure that Republicans are getting elected in Virginia,” D’Onofrio said. 

The stoppage in Virginia looks to have been a quick decision. Just one day before this announcement, Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, made two stops in Virginia: one in Salem and another in Lynchburg at Liberty University, an evangelical college led by Jerry Falwell Jr., a steadfast Trump supporter.

On Monday, the Trump campaign fired its Virginia chair, Corey Stewart, a candidate for governor next year and a Trump loyalist, after he staged a controversial protest in front of the RNC to convince GOP members and RNC staff to not give up on Trump despite falling poll numbers and the release of a 2005 videotape with Trump making lewd comments.

But the Trump campaign has been under pressure for months to give up on Virginia and focus on states like North Carolina, where polls show a tighter race.

As far back as August, the RNC was urging Trump aides to allocated their resources elsewhere, but Trump’s son, Eric, vetoed the idea.

“Eric was one of the driving forces to quash the effort to reallocate out of Virginia back in August,” the source said.