Gilmore Sees Warner and Clinton as His Competition

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 6, 2007

RICHMOND To figure out James S. Gilmore III's campaign strategy in next year's U.S. Senate race, one only has to listen to him for a few minutes.

In an interview with reporters at the Virginia Republican Party retreat last weekend, Gilmore stressed that former governor Mark R. Warner, the likely Democratic nominee for Senate, won't be on the ballot by himself.

"My strategy is defeating a Clinton-Warner ticket," said Gilmore, who is assuming that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York will be the Democratic nominee for president. "It will be Hillary Clinton together with Mark Warner, and at that point, people's opinion about the ticket will change."

A few minutes later, in a speech to the 500 GOP activists and leaders at the retreat in Crystal City, Gilmore fired up the crowd by saying, "I believe the people of Virginia . . . will not want to send a Democrat to the United States Senate to join a team of Hillary Clinton" and other Democratic leaders.

With polls showing Warner with a sizable early lead over Gilmore, the expected Republican nominee is doing all he can to bring the race within his grasp.

The question for Gilmore, who was governor from 1998 to 2002, becomes: Can Clinton alone improve his chances of getting elected?

Or is Gilmore gearing up to run a campaign better suited for 1998 than 2008?

There is no doubt that some Virginia Democrats fear Clinton could be a drag on the state party if she is the nominee next year. But it's far from a sure thing that Clinton would cost Warner votes.

A Washington Post poll in October found a higher percentage of Virginians said they definitely would not vote for GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney or Fred Thompson than said they would definitely not vote for Clinton.

The poll also found Democrats had an advantage of 11 percentage points when residents were asked which party they want to control the control the White House, suggesting a Democrat could win Virginia's 13 electoral votes for the first time since 1964.

Virginians' attitudes toward the Clintons appear to have improved dramatically since 2001, when Warner was elected governor. In that race, Warner kept his distance from former president Bill Clinton and made sure voters knew where they differed on policies.

By 2006, Virginia Democrats were feeling more confident about their relationship with the Clintons. Last year, Hillary Clinton traveled to Northern Virginia to hold a fundraiser for Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), who appeared with the former first lady at a joint news conference.

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