RICHMOND, Va. — A Republican candidate for governor in Virginia is telling conservative activists they need to stand up against the “twisted mindset” of the hate groups that were part of a deadly rally a week ago in Charlottesville.

Ed Gillespie made the remarks Saturday in Richmond. It was his first major speech since last week’s violence. The Republican nominee for governor has taken fire from Democrats for not specifically condemning racially fraught comments made by President Donald Trump following the Charlottesville rally over a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

Gillespie did not mention Trump by name during his speech Saturday, but said it was important for conservatives to reject the “evil” that the hate groups represent.

“Theirs is a twisted mindset rooted in hating and oppressing certain of us,” Gillespie said. “My conservatism is based on the knowledge that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, that we are all God’s children and that we are all created equal.”

The violence in Charlottesville and a larger debate over Confederate monuments have the potential to reshape this year’s race for governor, one of only two in the country. Gillespie has said he’s in favor of keeping Confederate statues in place while his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, has said they should be moved to museums.

The contest in swing state Virginia is getting close attention as a possible early referendum on the president and many moderate Republicans up for election in 2018 are looking to see how the Gillespie campaign navigates the Trump era. Gillespie, a former lobbyist and advisor to top Republicans like former President George W. Bush and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, has largely tried to avoid talking about the president and focus on economic issues.

Gillespie’s speech came during a summit hosted by Americans for Prosperity, the conservative group backed by industrialist billionaires Charles and David Koch, and much of his comments echoed his standard stump speech about the need to cut taxes and trim regulations.

Tim Phillips, Americans for Prosperity’s president, said the group plans to spend “significant” resources to defeat Northam in the general election, but declined to give a specific amount. The group has already reported spending nearly $300,000 so far on anti-Northam efforts.

“It’s an important state for us. We think we can get it done this year or we wouldn’t be involved,” Phillips said.