GOP hopes primary winner will break losing streak
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.”