Ed Gillespie may soon jump in Senate race
By: James Hohmann
January 3, 2014 05:33 PM EST
Republican Ed Gillespie will likely jump into the Virginia Senate race this month, multiple sources tell POLITICO.
A GOP state senator said Friday that he passed on challenging U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D) partly because he is convinced that Gillespie, the former Republican National Committee chairman, plans to.
“I don’t know exactly when he’ll officially announce, but I feel confident enough that I will throw my support behind him,” Jeff McWaters said in a phone interview.
Warner announced earlier Friday that he raised $1.6 million in the third quarter and has $7.1 million cash on hand. The freshman Democrat remains personally popular, but national Republicans believe a candidate like Gillespie could oust him by raising enough money and capitalizing on the sinking popularity of President Barack Obama and the Warner-backed health care law.
Other Republican sources said Gillespie is leaning strongly toward making an official announcement before the Feb. 1 filing deadline.
Gillespie did not respond to an email seeking comment. When he first expressed interest to POLITICO about a possible race, he said that McWaters would be a very good candidate.
The GOP nominee will be picked at a June convention in Roanoke, which could empower conservative activists. The two relatively unknown Republican candidates already in the race, Shak Hill and Howie Lind, have indicated they will stay in even if Gillespie joins the field.
“You have to assume it will be a nominating fight still,” said McWaters, a wealthy businessman who represents the Virginia Beach area. “But, as I said to Ed, ‘If you can’t get 1,500 or 2,000 raging fans to Roanoke, Virginia, for a night and a day, than you probably can’t beat Mark Warner anyway.’”
“You’ve got to past that first hurdle,” he added, “and I think he will.”
McWaters said that he saw running for U.S. Senate as a 12- to 18- year commitment, but that he still sees other opportunities to serve the commonwealth in Richmond. He could still be a GOP contender for governor in 2017.
Gillespie has never run for office before. He was a prominent Hill aide in the 1990s before co-founding a powerful lobbying firm. He chaired the RNC and Republican Party of Virginia under the presidency of George W. Bush, and served as a senior White House aide during Bush’s second term.
The Virginian-Pilot reports that Gillespie, who currently chairs the Republican State Leadership Committee, plans to campaign in Norfolk on Saturday for a local Republican in a state Senate special election.
McWaters said Warner has not been the “bipartisan radical centrist” that the former governor promised to be when he cruised to victory in 2008.
“I like Mark Warner,” he said. “I consider him a friend. But a bad vote’s a bad vote. I don’t care how nice they are or how affable. The policies of this president that he has aggressively supported were the wrong policies for America.”