Ed Gillespie, the former Republican National Committee chairman and a top Washington, D.C. lobbyist, will reportedly announce his bid for Senate in Virginia next week to challenge incumbent Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA). The New York Times describes Gillespie’s bid as an effort by “mainstream Virginia Republicans to retake control” from the Tea Party.
Gillespie is closely associated with Karl Rove, whom Tea Party conservatives have grown to distrust after groups affiliated with him spent more than $100 million in 2012 with no wins to show for the spending. Gillespie and Rove were the two most prominent people associated with Crossroads network when it formed around 2010, right as the Tea Party was becoming a force that would propel Republicans to historic gains in the midterm elections.
The Times recognizes that Gillespie’s “long history as a lobbyist” at a time when those outside of Washington, D.C. are revolting against Boomtown’s permanent political class, in addition to his being an “unapologetic supporter of a comprehensive immigration overhaul,” may make it more difficult for him to win over the state’s conservatives. Gillespie will have to win their support since he will have to win the nomination at a party convention, which favors conservatives, instead of a primary.
Prominent conservatives in the state like Mike Farris have said that “anybody associated with the national Republican hierarchy is a little bit suspect”; he said Gillespie will have to “prove he’s not the same as the rest of the Washington Republican establishment.” Morton Blackwell, a conservative stalwart in Virginia who is the president of the Leadership Institute, however, has reportedly encouraged Gillespie to run.
Gillespie may also have to distance himself from Republican Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, whose political career is likely over after it has been tarnished by rampant crony capitalism. Gillespie served as McDonnell’s campaign chairman in 2009 and has been aligned with him since, and he is reportedly lining up McDonnell’s team, including his “ad-maker, pollster and campaign manager” for his run.
Warner, who won his bid for governor by running as a “good ol’ boy from up in NOVA-ville” in 2001, remains formidable because of his $7 million war chest. In 2014, though, Virginia may favor Republicans, especially after the disastrous Obamacare rollout, which, along with Obama’s sagging popularity ratings, may help Gillespie neutralize the advantages Warner will have as an incumbent should Gillespie win the nomination. Republican leaders believe Gillespie is one of the few who can match Warner’s fundraising to take the Senate seat back for Republicans,
On Thursday, Gillespie took to Twitter:
encouraged by people all across our party in Va The filing deadline is February 1st, so I will announce a decision soon
— Ed Gillespie (@EdWGillespie) January 10, 2014