By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Former Virginia governor James S. Gilmore III, whose chief claim to fame in his one term was a partially completed repeal of the state's car tax, has become the self-appointed pit bull of the 2008 Republican presidential campaign.
Gilmore uses the nickname "Rudy McRomney" in derisively lumping together former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. In a Web video, he lambastes them for not sharing the "core conservative values" of his party.
"John McCain has fought conservatives time after time, even invoking the rhetoric of class warfare to oppose the Bush tax cuts," Gilmore said. "Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney both repeatedly opposed core conservative values to win elections in New York and Massachusetts."
With almost no money (he raised less than 1 percent of what Romney did during the first three months of the year) and almost no staff (he says he has a single "field man" in Iowa), Gilmore has decided to gain ground in the crowded field of 10 candidates through a simple strategy: attack, attack, attack -- and hope the rest start attacking one another as well.
Eventually, said Kieran Mahoney, Gilmore's top strategist, Republican voters will see what Gilmore says is plain: None of the other candidates for president has his record as a "consistent conservative."
"Romney's going to take his $23 million and go shooting at McCain," Mahoney said. "When Giuliani takes his $17 million and shoots at Romney, that's not a bad day, either. It's not necessary that we own the bullets."
If Tuesday's debate in Columbia, S.C., was any indication, Gilmore's strategy may be working. By repeating some of his accusations, Gilmore grabbed a bigger share of the post-debate coverage than he did after the Republicans' first debate. And, as Mahoney predicted, his comments may have helped to spark feisty exchanges between the other candidates.
The leading candidates for the Republican nomination profess no fear of Gilmore.
An aide to one of them, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that his team "is working 80- to 100-hour weeks, focused on many different elements of the campaign. None of them deal with Jim Gilmore."
Such scorn might deflate another long-shot candidate, but not Gilmore. Supreme self-confidence was his greatest strength -- and, some say, the source of many bruised relationships -- in public life.
Gilmore served one year as chairman of the Republican National Committee, leaving after what was widely described as a clash of egos between him and Karl Rove, one of President Bush's top advisers.
Sitting in the library of an Alexandria hotel this week, Gilmore dismissed the comments of his rivals and repeated his criticism of their qualifications.
"Rudy McRomney is not going to be nominated," he insisted during a wide-ranging, hour-long discussion. "There is no historical reason to think they will be."
So what would a Gilmore presidency look like?
His aggressive push of the Virginia car-tax cut for four years made him the darling of fiscal conservatives but also sparked a philosophical battle within his party.
Gilmore is unapologetic. "I am prepared to defend my record in Virginia," he said, but he then pointed out that he is not running for governor again.
"I know I can be the president," he said. "I know I have a philosophy that is very well worked out. I know exactly how I feel about what society should be like and what the role of the United States should be in the world."
Even so, he is still fuzzy on key issues, such as immigration and the Iraq war. Gilmore said Thursday that he was not ready to take a position on the immigration deal reached hours earlier by Bush and a bipartisan group of senators, including McCain. He said that illegal immigrants should not have a "path to citizenship," but added that immigration reform "is needed" and that the 12 million illegal immigrants already in this country should be required to "register" to stay.
On the Iraq war, Gilmore said that Democrats who advocate a pullout of troops are "succumbing to a siren song" that could lead to ethnic cleansing such as the kind seen in the Balkans nearly a decade ago. But as with some of his rivals, he did not have a clear answer to the question of what the United States should do if the current increase in troops does not work.
Boyd Marcus, who served as Gilmore's gubernatorial chief of staff, said that the late decision to run for the presidency has made it difficult. Gilmore jumped in last November, only after George Allen (R-Va.) lost his Senate seat.
"Our ramp-up has been slower," Marcus said.
But Gilmore said that his experience as governor and on two federal task forces makes him an ideal candidate.
"It seemed like time after time after time in public life, I was confronted with challenges that had to be met," he said. "So, naturally, when people along the way kept talking about the presidency, then of course you look to see whether or not the moment in fact has arrived."