STATE REPUBLICAN MEETING
Delegate Won't Run, Easing Gilmore's Senate Bid
Sunday, December 2, 2007
Virginia Del. Christopher B. Saxman said yesterday that he will not seek the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, clearing a major obstacle in former governor James S. Gilmore III's quest to unite the party around his candidacy before the state convention in May.
Saxman (Staunton) announced his decision at the Virginia Republican Party Advance in Crystal City, an annual retreat that draws hundreds of activists and party leaders.
In the evening, a presidential straw poll was held at the retreat. Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) won with 38 percent of the votes; former Tennessee senator Fred D. Thompson came in second with 23 percent. The poll had no bearing on the delegates Virginia will send next summer to the national GOP convention. Virginia will hold a presidential primary Feb. 12.
Saxman, considered a rising star in the state party, said he decided to forgo a bid for the seat held by retiring Sen. John W. Warner (R) because he didn't think he would have enough time to raise the money needed to compete with Gilmore.
"The last two weeks have required much soul-searching and many discussions with my family," said Saxman, 42, who co-chairs the presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in Virginia. "The decision came down to what would my family, supporters and I have to do to be successful."
Saxman's decision was a blow to party activists who want younger, fresher faces to lead the GOP after recent disappointments in statewide elections. Some believed Saxman, a three-term delegate with a reputation as a pragmatic conservative, could have bolstered the party's standing in Northern Virginia and among independents.
Del. Robert G. Marshall (Prince William) is the only significant Republican besides Gilmore still publicly considering a Senate bid. Others could emerge, but some party leaders say it looks increasingly likely that Gilmore will be the nominee.
In a speech at the retreat, Gilmore said it's time to unify the party against former governor Mark R. Warner, the likely Democratic nominee in the Senate race. Gilmore suggested that Warner is a liberal aligned with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, a senator from New York. "Democrats do not understand the big picture," Gilmore said. "They do not understand the conflicts and challenges the state faces today and will face."
Gilmore said Republicans will do better than Democrats of protecting national security and controlling spending. Gilmore also took aim at Warner's decision as governor in 2004 to push for a $1.4 billion tax increase.
"Mark Warner will promise you he will not be partisan if he is elected to the Senate," Gilmore said. "Don't forget he also promised not to raise taxes." Mark Warner's supporters depict the Democrat as a popular centrist who fixed problems inherited from Gilmore.
Gilmore, known for his combative style, might struggle to prove to Republicans that he can beat the likely Democratic nominee.
"One of the things I am looking for from Jim is how he brings new, conservative ideas to bear on the issues we are dealing with on the federal level," said state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II (R-Fairfax). "One challenge Gilmore has is he is felt to be a known quantity. So now that he is moving to a new level, he needs to find a way to revitalize the party."