Politico reports that Ed Gillespie — former Republican National Committee chairman, presidential adviser to George W. Bush and senior adviser on the Mitt Romney campaign — may challenge Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) in 2014. The report notes, “Conservatives might force him to answer for the Bush presidency, with an economic record widely criticized from the right, and for his post-White House push for immigration reform.” No doubt. In their unending quest for conservative purity and to make the party as narrow as possible, Gillespie would be an anathema. Their taste runs more to E.W. Jackson and Ken Cuccinelli, both of whom lost this November in statewide races.
The first issue is whether Warner is vulnerable. His approval rating is high, but he’s never had a very capable opponent, and his record is far to the left of the state he represents. He’s been essentially a rubber stamp for President Obama on everything from the stimulus plan to Obamacare. He hasn’t made much of an effort to moderate the defense sequester cuts that greatly impact Virginia. In fact, he hasn’t done much of anything. In a regular election year he’d be a slam dunk. But what if 2014 is a wave election in which Obamacare becomes the weight around the ankle of every Democrat in a purple or red state?
In that case you’d want a viable alternative, someone who doesn’t become the focus of a negative race but is able to keep the klieg lights on Obamacare and on Warner. Gillespie could well fit the bill. He’s amiable and media-tested. His presence on the Romney campaign came to late but was positive. He is strong on immigration reform — right where most Americans are in favoring a path to citizenship. And he’d have zero trouble raising money. At a time when both Bush and Romney are looking darn good in comparison to the incumbent, Gillespie’s association with both would be a plus.
But of course the defeat-prone state party would want a convention of the true believers who chose Jackson and Cuccinelli. If that is the case, Gillespie would have an uphill climb.
And you see the problem: The most viable candidates are shut out by far-right activists with a nose for defeat. The ones pleasing to the far-right conventions are unelectable statewide. The far right will say that Warner and the other pro-Obamacare senators will be so vulnerable that a conservative such as Cuccinelli could win. Puh-leez. That was the argument for Cuccinelli against flawed Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe. It turns out you really need someone acceptable to beat a vulnerable candidate, never mind one in a strong position.
Sounding much like a candidate, Gillespie emails,”Mark Warner’s not turned out to be the senator so many Virginians thought he would be. They thought he’d be an independent voice, but he’s voted with President Obama 97 percent of the time since he got elected with him in 2008.” He adds, “They thought he’d be fiscally responsible, but he voted for a trillion dollar stimulus bill that borrowed from future generations to waste on pork barrel spending. And he promised he’d never vote for a bill that would mean people losing the insurance they like if they wanted to keep it, then cast the deciding vote in favor of Obamacare.” If not his campaign theme, it is one the GOP candidates should adopt.
Gillespie should strongly consider the race, as should new Republican Artur Davis, popular state delegate Barbara Comstock and other center-right candidates with some crossover appeal. If nothing else, they’ll get a boost in name recognition and make Warner and the Democratic National Committee spend some money. And who knows, with a viable candidate and a wave year, Republicans might just win.