Gilmore Beats Marshall In Nomination Nail-Biter

By Tim Craig and Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, June 1, 2008

RICHMOND, May 31 -- By a paper-thin margin, former Virginia governor James S. Gilmore III captured the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate on Saturday at a state party convention here that exposed some GOP doubts about Gilmore and highlighted the influence of social conservatives.

Gilmore defeated Del. Robert G. Marshall, a staunch opponent of abortion rights making his first bid for statewide office, by about 70 votes out of 10,378 cast. The margin was less than one percentage point.

Despite outspending his rival by more than 8 to 1, Gilmore was nearly upset by a coalition of antiabortion and anti-tax activists, libertarians and some moderate Republicans from Northern Virginia who backed Marshall (Prince William).

Many in that coalition banded together later in the day to help Del. Jeffrey M. Frederick (Prince William) oust former lieutenant governor John H. Hager as chairman of the state party. Frederick, 32, campaigned as a younger, more conservative alternative. Hager, 72, is Jenna Bush's father-in-law.

Gilmore is gearing up for a fall campaign against former governor Mark R. Warner, the likely Democratic nominee, in a contest that will draw national attention. The retirement of Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), no relation to Mark Warner, has given Democrats a prime chance to expand their Senate majority.

After winning the GOP nomination, Gilmore called for party unity.

"Don't be worried about the fact that every now and then we get ourselves into a contentious convention," said Gilmore, also a former attorney general and former chairman of the Republican National Committee. "When we come down to the end, we will be unified."

In his campaign, Marshall had criticized Gilmore's support for abortion rights until the eighth week of pregnancy. After his loss, Marshall said it was important to defeat Warner but stopped short of endorsing the Republican nominee. Marshall told supporters that the "party needs to be united behind principled, pro-life, real pro-life [leaders] who respect the rights of all people, old and young."

Division at the convention underscored one of the challenges Gilmore faces as he prepares to take on Warner, who has raised more than $8 million for his campaign.

But a Gilmore-Warner matchup is expected to be a slugfest. Each has vastly different opinions of the other's record and competing views on how to change Washington.

Warner, who is expected to become the consensus Democratic nominee June 14 at the party's convention, announced he will run his first statewide television advertisement Monday.

The ad features testimonials from former state Senate president John H. Chichester, a Republican, and business and civic leaders who credit Warner for closing a budget shortfall that, they imply, Gilmore created in his term as governor from 1998 to 2002.

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