Gillespie to face Va. GOP skep­tics

In­sider needs to court out­siders for nom­i­na­tion


rich­mond — Ed Gillespie, the con­sum­mate Repub­li­can in­sider as a for­mer White House coun­selor, strate­gist and Karl Rove ally, man­aged to woo enough of his party’s balky right flank last year to win the GOP nom­i­na­tion for U.S. Se­nate.

Now, as he plans to run for gover­nor in 2017, he will have to pull that off again. It could be a tall or­der. Some Vir­ginia Repub­li­cans have been clam­or­ing for Gillespie to seek the gover­nor’s man­sion since last year, when the for­mer Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee chair­man came within an eyelash of top­pling the seem­ingly in­domitable Sen. Mark R. Warner (D).

But the GOP’s most con­ser­va­tive ac­tivists, who will play an out­size role if the party picks its nom­i­nee at a con­ven­tion, still need con­vinc­ing, in­ter­views show. At a time when out­sider can­di­dates are up­end­ing pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics for both par­ties, grass­roots Repub­li­cans are not in­stantly em­brac­ing the no­tion of an in­sider for gover­nor.

“Folks are not in the mood for that kind of pol­i­tics these days,”

said Chris Shores, who ran the cam­paign for Gillespie’s lead­ing GOP Se­nate ri­val and now serves as statewide or­ga­nizer for the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.). “I don’t think that Don­ald Trump sup­port­ers, or Cruz sup­port­ers, or [Ben] Car­son sup­port­ers are go­ing to get be­hind Ed Gillespie in any way, shape or form.”

The mood of the grass­roots could cer­tainly shift be­tween now and 2017, with state leg­isla­tive races this year and the 2016 pres­i­den­tial race po­ten­tially leav­ing con­ser­va­tives em­bold­ened— or chas­tened. Ei­ther way, Gillespie will need their sup­port if the GOP goes through with plans to pick its nom­i­nee at a con­ven­tion — a day-long af­fair that draws only the most com­mit­ted ac­tivists— rather than through a pri­mary open to all vot­ers.

A con­ven­tion could be an es­pe­cially tough fo­rum for Gillespie if a con­ser­va­tive star such as for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral Ken Cuc­cinelli II gets into the race. Cuc­cinelli, who nar­rowly lost the 2013 gover­nor’s race to Terry McAuliffe (D), said in re­cent days that he has not dis­counted mak­ing another run.

“Teiro and I have not ruled out run­ning for gover­nor in 2017, but we have barely be­gun to think about it,” Cuc­cinelli, re­fer­ring to his wife, said Satur­day inane-mail to The Washington Post.

Gillespie won the Se­nate nom­i­na­tion at a con­ven­tion — in Roanoke — with about 60 per­cent of the vote. Some sup­port­ers say con­ven­tion-go­ers will be even more in­clined to back him in the wake of his near-up­set of Warner, a pop­u­lar for­mer gover­nor who started the race 30 points up and out spent Gillespie 2 to 1.

“Ed Gillespie has shown a ca­pac­ity to unite the Repub­li­can Party that has been ex­ceed­ingly rare in Vir­ginia over the last decade,” said Tucker Martin, an ad­viser to Gillespie’s Se­nate cam­paign. “He won the nom­i­na­tion last year in a con­ven­tion, and he did that by reach­ing out to ev­ery seg­ment of the Repub­li­can Party and run­ning a big-tent cam­paign.”

Gillespie pulled that off last time with a tire­less charm of­fen­sive, schlep­ping across the com­mon­wealth for meet­ings big and small, sit­ting down with skep­tics and ask­ing for their votes face-to­face. They met a man who, yes, had been a se­nior ad­viser to Mitt Rom­ney’s 2012 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, but who also was an ar­chi­tect of Newt Gin­grich’s 1994 “Con­tract With Amer­ica.”

“Ed’s back­ground is at the high­est lev­els of na­tional pol­i­tics, but he hasn’t let that stop him from ap­proach­ing pol­i­tics in Vir­ginia from the grass-roots an­gle,” said Steve Al­bert­son, who runs the con­ser­va­tive Bull Ele­phant blog and has a lead­er­ship role in the party.

Since the Se­nate race, Gillespie has re­mained en­gaged, help­ing to raise money and rally vot­ers for races — down to county su­per­vi­sor and school board con­tests. On Thurs­day, Gillespie and his wife, Cathy, hosted a re­cep­tion at their Fair­fax County home for Jane Gandee, a can­di­date for su­per­vi­sor there.

“I’ve had some peo­ple who have said they’ll do things for me, and now I can’t even get them to re­turn a phone call,” Gandee said. “But not Ed and Cathy.”

An­thony Stacy said it has been “in­valu­able” to his Fair­fax County School Board bid to have the moral sup­port and guid­ance of the one­time White House coun­selor, who worked for Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush.

Gillespie’s con­tin­ued in­volve­ment had stoked ru­mors that he was eye­ing the gover­nor’s man­sion. There had been talk of that from the time Gillespie took on Warner for what ini­tially looked like a hope­less— but recog­ni­tion boost­ing— task. Gillespie brushed off that no­tion dur­ing the Se­nate cam­paign and even af­ter, as a close friend and po­lit­i­cal ally, state Sen. Mark D. Oben­shain (R-Rock­ing­ham), be­gan run­ning for gover­nor.

Oben­shain had been widely seen as the fa­vorite to win the 2017 nom­i­na­tion for gover­nor, af­ter nar­rowly los­ing the 2013 race for at­tor­ney gen­eral.

Gillespie told those who en­cour­aged him to run for gover­nor that he would not do so as long as Oben­shain was in the race. In a sur­prise move Mon­day, Oben­shain bowed out. Word leaked that day that Gillespie was in, though he stayed mum. On Fri­day, Gillespie con­firmed it.

“I’ll start lay­ing a foun­da­tion to run my­self af­ter our elec­tions here are over next month,” Gillespie said Fri­day in an e-mail to The Post.

Oben­shain said that no one pushed him out; he sim­ply con­cluded that he was not up for another statewide run in 2017. But the news was wel­comed by many party in­sid­ers, who deeply re­spected Oben­shain but saw that Gillespie was a stronger can­di­date be­cause of his speak­ing skills and his abil­ity, as a for­mer RNC chief, to raise big money.

But that feel­ing was not uni­ver­sal. Some con­ser­va­tives who were skep­ti­cal of Gillespie as a Se­nate nom­i­nee said that they only soured on him as that race un­folded.

They wished that he had been more of a bomb thrower. John Fred­er­icks, host of a pop­u­lar con­ser­va­tive talk ra­dio show, called Gillespie’s 2014 cam­paign “vanilla.” That ap­proach won’t sat­isfy call­ers to his show, who are drawn to the in-your-face mes­sag­ing from Trump and other out­siders on the na­tional stage, Fred­er­icks said.

“They’ve lost con­fi­dence in the po­lit­i­cal class to get any­thing mean­ing­ful done,” he said. “Ed Gillespie is the Vir­ginia car­i­ca­ture of Jeb Bush. If you’re ex­cited about the Jeb Bush can­di­dacy na­tion­ally and in Vir­ginia, then you’re go­ing to be re­ally fired up about Ed. If not, then you’re not.”

Some of Gillespie’s es­tab­lish­ment sup­port­ers, how­ever, re­main im­pressed with his near-win and ex­pressed con­fi­dence that the party will unite be­hind him.

“He still has the halo af­ter his close loss to Warner,” said Richard Cullen, a for­mer Vir­ginia at­tor­ney gen­eral who is chair­man of McGuire Woods, the Rich­mond­based le­gal and lob­by­ing pow­er­house. “We’re hun­gry for a win and I think the ap­petite to win is go­ing to be greater than any parochial di­vi­sion.”

Gillespie’s suc­cess at a 2017 con­ven­tion prob­a­bly will de­pend on the level of com­pe­ti­tion and the at­ti­tude of the elec­torate, po­lit­i­cal strate­gists said. In 2014, when Warner looked un­beat­able, not many Repub­li­cans were itch­ing to take him on. Gillespie’s near­est ri­val, re­tired Air Force pi­lot Shak Hill, had lit­tle money or name recog­ni­tion.

Repub­li­cans also were com­ing off a Demo­cratic sweep in the 2013 races for gover­nor, lieu­tenant gover­nor and at­tor­ney gen­eral. That made some con­ser­va­tives open to Gillespie as a more prag­matic choice than Hill.

Daniel Brad­shaw, the im­me­di­ate past chair of the Prince Ed­ward County Repub­li­can Party, said that Gillespie’s suc­cess with the grass roots will de­pend on who else is out there.

Right now, Gillespie is the only Repub­li­can in the race. Among Democrats, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam is the only de­clared can­di­date. Among Repub­li­cans men­tioned as po­ten­tial can­di­dates are: Cuc­cinelli; Rep. Rob Wittman; North­ern Vir­ginia tech­nol­ogy en­tre­pre­neur Pete Sny­der; Corey Stewart, chair­man of the Prince Wil­liam Board of Su­per­vi­sors; and state Sens. Wil­liam M. Stan­ley Jr. of Franklin, Jeffrey L. McWaters of Vir­ginia Beach and Thomas A. Gar­rett Jr. of Buck­ing­ham.

“Gillespie is def­i­nitely not a huge fa­vorite among the con­ser­va­tive grass roots of the party,” said Brad­shaw, who was po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tor for E.W. Jack­son, the Ch­e­sa­peake min­is­ter who won the 2013 nom­i­na­tion for lieu­tenant gover­nor in an up­set. “But it re­mains to be seen who all gets in.”

Ed Gillespie

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