Gilmore's Aides Confident He's Ahead

Del. Robert G. Marshall said Gilmore's claim is like someone
Del. Robert G. Marshall said Gilmore's claim is like someone "who is bluffing at poker because he doesn't have a good hand." (By Bob Brown -- Associated Press)
By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 12, 2008

RICHMOND -- Advisers to former governor James S. Gilmore III claim that he has essentially locked up the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, but his chief opponent says Gilmore is bluffing because he is on the verge of an embarrassing loss at the state convention next month.

In a campaign directed at a few thousand GOP activists who choose the nominee, Gilmore has been locked in a surprisingly intense struggle with Del. Robert G. Marshall (Prince William). Robert D. "Bob" Berry of Springfield is also running, but Marshall has posed the biggest threat to Gilmore, who earlier this year was not expecting a challenger.

The Virginia GOP convention is not until the last weekend in May, but the convoluted process for selecting the nominee to run against former governor Mark R. Warner (D) has been underway since last month, when Republican county and city committees started meeting to select delegates to the state convention.

Gilmore and Marshall have dispatched paid staff and surrogates across the state to try to persuade supporters to attend the meetings and register as delegates. About half of the local meetings have taken place, with new ones almost daily until April 26.

Marshall, a fierce opponent of abortion and tax increases, is said to be running strong among Northern Virginia delegates elected so far.

But based on early returns from the county meetings, Gilmore strategist M. Boyd Marcus said "there really isn't any doubt" that Gilmore will be the nominee because he is winning big in many rural counties as well as suburban Richmond and Hampton Roads.

Gilmore, a former attorney general and prosecutor, is relying on a network of supporters he built during his previous two bids for statewide office. Marshall is mounting his first statewide campaign.

"They really don't have anyone on their side that has really done this before," Marcus said of Marshall's campaign. "They never really understood what was happening around them. You can't build support on a statewide basis in a month or two."

Marshall counters that Marcus is trying to deceive people into thinking Gilmore has the race won to depress turnout at the remaining local meetings.

"From what we can tell, we are ahead," Marshall said. "This is someone who is bluffing at poker because he doesn't have a good hand."

Marshall estimated that he has secured three of every four delegates in Loudoun County as well as a majority in Fairfax County, where activists had until late March to register as delegates. Marshall also expects to rack up big margins in Prince William County, where activists will convene today to choose delegates.

Marshall said he has also snared about half of the delegates in heavily Republican Chesterfield County in suburban Richmond. If true, the Chesterfield results could be a bad sign for Gilmore, who lives in suburban Richmond.

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