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