Gil­more shuns Bush in race for Se­nate; mocks oil re­quest to Saudis

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Stephen Di­nan

James S. Gil­more III, who seeks Vir­ginia’s U.S. Se­nate seat, on May 19 dra­mat­i­cally dis­tanced him­self from Pres­i­dent Bush on trade, im­mi­gra­tion, spend­ing and en­ergy, and even likened the pres­i­dent’s hat-in-hand re­quest of the Saudi gov­ern­ment to boost oil pro­duc­tion ear­lier this month to Sen. Barack Obama’s call to ne­go­ti­ate with en­emy lead­ers.

“I just don’t think the pres­i­dent of the United States should be go­ing to the Mid­dle East to ask for oil drilling and be turned down,” said Mr. Gil­more, com­par­ing Mr. Bush’s Mid­dle East trip to Mr. Obama’s dec­la­ra­tion that he would ne­go­ti­ate with Ira­nian leader Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad.

“That would be kind of like try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with Iran with­out pre­con­di­tions. We’ve heard that be­fore.”

The for­mer Repub­li­can gov­er­nor of Vir­ginia and short-lived pres­i­den­tial as­pi­rant told edi­tors and re­porters at The Wash­ing­ton Times that his party is “splin­tered” both at the na­tional level and in Vir­ginia, and that Mr. Bush should have taken a more “de­ci­sive” stand on cut­ting spend­ing as a way of cap­tur­ing the votes of work­ing Amer­i­cans.

His sober­ing as­sess­ment of his party’s floun­der­ing was shared by a fel­low Vir­ginian, Rep. Eric Can­tor, the Repub­li­can chief deputy whip in the House. In a sep­a­rate in­ter­view, Mr. Can­tor said Repub­li­cans are fight­ing up­hill against the re­al­ity that “the pub­lic looks at the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion in the last seven or eight years as a time in which the gov­ern­ment did not fix any prob­lems.”

In the wake of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, Mr. Gil­more said, Repub­li­cans should do a bet­ter job en­sur­ing free trade is fair to the U.S. by im­pos­ing stricter la­bor and en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards on other na­tions.

“I think we should be tougher. I think we should be stronger,” he said. “The pub­lic has a right to be­lieve that the play­ing field has been equal­ized and that Amer­i­cans are play­ing at the same ad­van­tage of peo­ple around the world. Oth­er­wise, you can’t sus­tain the pol­icy.”

He also said the Repub­li­can Party needs to bet­ter con­nect with vot­ers on pock­et­book is­sues, es­pe­cially ris­ing gas prices, by es­tab­lish­ing an en­ergy pol­icy that makes greater use of nu­clear power and coal and al­lows drilling in the Arc- tic Na­tional Wildlife Refuge, the con­ti­nen­tal shelf and else­where.

“We’ve got to cre­ate do­mes­tic oil pro­duc­tion, we have to do it, and we have to be strong about it, say we’re go­ing to do it,” he said.

Mr. Gil­more served as a county pros­e­cu­tor be­fore win­ning the state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s post in 1993 and then, with the help of his “No Car Tax” pledge, won the gov­er­nor­ship in 1997.

Demo­crat Mark Warner, the man who suc­ceeded Mr. Gil­more as gov­er­nor, will be his party’s Se­nate can­di­date. To be­come the Repub­li­can can­di­date, Mr. Gil­more must first sur­vive a nom­i­nat­ing con­ven­tion May 31 at which Del­e­gate Robert G. Mar­shall of Prince William is also com­pet­ing.

Dur­ing the 90-minute in­ter­view, Mr. Gil­more barely men­tioned Mr. Mar­shall, in­stead declar­ing Mr. Warner his op­po­nent and point­ing to clear dif­fer­ences on taxes and en­ergy pol­icy.

Mr. Gil­more said his big­gest ob­sta­cle to win­ning the Se­nate seat is Vir­ginia’s frac­tured Repub­li­can Party. The split traces back to the last years of Mr. Gil­more’s term as gov­er­nor, when he fought bit­terly with Repub­li­cans in the state Se­nate over tax cuts and spend­ing.

“We’ve had five or six years now of se­ri­ous di­vi­sions, and it’s harder to pull it to­gether,” Mr. Gil­more said, though he added that his can­di­dacy can unify Repub­li­cans.

“The peo­ple of Vir­ginia are happy to elect a Demo­crat if you don’t of­fer a good pro­gram, a good pol­icy, but if you do of­fer a good pro­gram, a good pol­icy, it is the Repub­li­can approach that is amenable to the peo­ple of Vir­ginia, all the way from North­ern Vir­ginia to the south­west, to Hamp­ton Roads,” he said.

In this year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, he said, he is con­fi­dent that the pre­sump­tive Repub­li­can nom­i­nee, Sen. John McCain, will carry Vir­ginia and its 13 elec­toral votes.

“Vir­ginia is not a pur­ple state and it’s cer­tainly not a blue state. It is a red state. It is go­ing to vote Repub­li­can in Novem­ber,” Mr. Gil­more said.

Mr. Gil­more said he will con­sider per­son­ally re­nounc­ing ear­marks, the pork-bar­rel spend­ing re­quests that have be­come the sym­bol of con­gres­sional waste, but isn’t ready to take that step. For now, he said, he sup­ports the call for a Congress-wide end to ear­marks.

“We may very well do it uni­lat­er­ally; as a mat­ter of fact, we may very well. But the bet­ter approach is to pit one sen­a­tor against an­other, or one con­gress­man against an­other,” he said.

He broke with Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain on im­mi­gra­tion, say­ing the coun­try can­not ac­cept amnesty for il­le­gal im­mi­grants, though it should con­sider a guest-worker pro­gram for fu­ture for­eign work­ers.

Mr. Gil­more said the U.S. in the past few years has “not had a na­tional pol­icy that we will con­trol our borders,” and said he would be will­ing to make em­ploy­ers who hire il­le­gal aliens serve jail time.

Astrid Riecken / The Wash­ing­ton Times

Draw­ing the line: For­mer Vir­ginia Gov. James S. Gil­more III says he stands op­po­site Pres­i­dent Bush and Sen. John McCain on im­mi­gra­tion and re­jects amnesty for il­le­gals.

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