GOP hopes pri­mary win­ner will break los­ing streak

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY SETH MCLAUGHLIN

Vir­ginia Repub­li­cans, who have been on a long los­ing streak, are hop­ing to be­gin turn­ing things around in Tues­day’s pri­mary, start­ing with the top of the ticket.

Ed Gille­spie, a long­time Wash­ing­ton in­sider who has never held elected of­fice, faces off against Prince Wil­liam County Board of Su­per­vi­sors Chair­man Corey Ste­wart and state Sen. Frank Wag­ner. The win­ner will be charged with try­ing to lead a GOP resur­gence in a state that used to be as re­li­ably Repub­li­can as any in the coun­try, but where Democrats have been dom­i­nant in re­cent years.

“An­other wipe­out, you can flip the switch: Vir­ginia goes from pur­ple to blue — it be­comes New Jersey,” said John Fred­er­icks, a con­ser­va­tive ra­dio host who is back­ing Mr. Gille­spie and served as a del­e­gate for Don­ald Trump last year at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion.

Mr. Gille­spie has con­sis­tently polled ahead of his ri­vals, and led the money chase — en­ter­ing the home­stretch of the cam­paign with $2.4 mil­lion cash on hand. He also has scored a slew of en­dorse­ments — hav­ing racked up the sup­port of 67 of the 87 Repub­li­can mem­bers of the state Gen­eral Assem­bly, a ma­jor­ity of the mem­bers on Repub­li­can State Cen­tral Com­mit­tee and over 30 lo­cal

party chairs, ac­cord­ing to his cam­paign.

His back­ers are hop­ing he will break Democrats’ win­ning streak, which has seen them win ev­ery U.S. Se­nate elec­tion since 2006, claim the state’s Elec­toral Col­lege votes in the last three pres­i­den­tial con­tests and sweep all three top state of­fices in 2013.

Bob Holsworth, a long­time po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst in Vir­ginia, said Repub­li­cans should take some so­lace in the fact that while Vir­ginia has been re­li­ably blue in re­cent pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, it has been less so in off-year races.

“In off-year elec­tions the Democrats have been win­ning, but not by as much,” he said. “We are more pur­plish. So it is clear that a Repub­li­can can win.”

Mr. Gille­spie closed out his fi­nal day of cam­paign­ing in North­ern Vir­ginia, meet­ing with vol­un­teers, stop­ping at a lo­cal bar­be­cue restau­rant and hold­ing a get-out-the-vote rally in a voter-rich part of the state that has the power to swing elec­tions.

Mr. Ste­wart on Mon­day made cam­paign stops in Ch­e­sa­peake and Lynch­burg, while Mr. Wag­ner made the rounds in Hamp­ton Roads.

On the Demo­cratic side, vot­ers are pick­ing be­tween Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who has the sup­port of the state party’s es­tab­lish­ment, and for­mer Rep. Tom Per­riello, who’s run­ning as the in­sur­gent can­di­date of the pro­gres­sive wing of the party.

Mr. Per­riello fin­ished the cam­paign Mon­day with a se­ries of stops in North­ern Vir­ginia, in­clud­ing a fi­nal rally with Khizr Khan, the Mus­lim fa­ther of slain United States Army Cap­tain Hu­mayun Khan, and who be­came a ma­jor critic of Mr. Trump in the 2016 elec­tion.

Mr. Northam, who has the sup­port of Gov. Terry McAuliffe, as well as Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, spent his fi­nal day of cam­paign­ing with four stops across Hamp­ton Roads.

Repub­li­cans have had near-misses in re­cent elec­tions.

In 2013 Mr. McAuliffe de­feated Repub­li­can Ken Cucin­nelli by less than 3 per­cent­age points de­spite dra­mat­i­cally out­spend­ing him.

A year later, Mr. Gille­spie, in his first run for of­fice, nearly de­feated Mr. Warner.

That race boosted Mr. Gille­spie’s stock in GOP cir­cles and laid the foun­da­tion for his bid for the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion for gov­er­nor.

“Once he came close to beat­ing Warner, it gave peo­ple con­fi­dence that he could pull it off,” said Rep. David Albo, who is one of three re­main­ing GOP state law­mak­ers from North­ern Vir­ginia. “No. 2, he can raise money, and that is half the bat­tle, and No. 3, from all his ex­pe­ri­ence in the Bush White House, he is very pol­ished, so we don’t ex­pect him to make mis­takes.”

While not hav­ing elected of­fice un­der his belt, Mr. Gille­spie served as a na­tional and state GOP chair­man, and worked in the White House as coun­selor to Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush — all of which could give him a leg up in re­build­ing the state party.

But if Mr. Gille­spie emerges as the GOP’s can­di­date for Novem­ber, he’ll have to be care­ful how he nav­i­gates the pol­i­tics of Mr. Trump.

“I think that Ed Gille­spie in many ways is al­most the perfect guy,” said Mr. Holsworth. “Un­for­tu­nately, he is go­ing to have to over­come what is clearly a Trump head­wind in Vir­ginia, and deal­ing with that is go­ing to re­quire all of his po­lit­i­cal skill.”

Run too close to Mr. Trump and Mr. Gille­spie risks an­ger­ing the anti-Trump re­sis­tance, par­tic­u­larly in vote-rich North­ern Vir­ginia. Dis­tanc­ing him­self means Mr. Gille­spie angers hard-core Trump sup­port­ers in more ru­ral ar­eas, Mr. Holsworth said.

Mr. Albo said Mr. Gille­spie, who calls North­ern Vir­ginia home, can re­late to vot­ers on the nuts-and-bolts is­sues of traf­fic and the high cost of liv­ing.

“If you are Repub­li­can and you want to win statewide, you have to win in North­ern Vir­ginia,” Mr. Albo said. “In my ex­pe­ri­ence, peo­ple in North­ern Vir­ginia want their roads paved, want to get their kids in col­lege, and they want to put bad guys in jail so they are not mo­lest­ing their kids.”

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