At State GOP Convention, a Squeaker and a Landslide

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 5, 2008


Here are the answers to the election questions asked in last week's Virginia Notebook.

On Friday and Saturday, Republicans gathered at a Richmond convention center to select their nominee to fill the seat of retiring Sen. John W. Warner (R). They also elected a party chairman and delegates to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

1. Can former governor James S. Gilmore III fend off Del. Robert G. Marshall for the U.S. Senate nomination? Yes, barely.

2. If Gilmore wins, how big will his margin be ? Gilmore won by 66 votes out of 10,378 cast. The margin was less than one percentage point, despite the fact that Gilmore outspent Marshall by more than 8 to 1. Marshall (R-Prince William) nearly toppled Gilmore because he amassed a coalition of antiabortion and anti-tax activists, libertarians and some moderate Republicans from Northern Virginia who don't like the former governor. Gilmore will have to work this summer to solidify his base as he prepares for a fall campaign against Democratic Senate candidate Mark R. Warner, a former governor who is very popular.

3. How many supporters of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul (Tex.) will attend the convention? Several dozen Paul supporters were at the convention, but they didn't have a vocal presence, although a smattering of boos could be heard at one point when someone mentioned the war in Iraq. But Paul's supporters helped Marshall nearly upset Gilmore. Marshall's two sons are Paul supporters.

4. What kind of reception will Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, receive ? McCain wasn't there, but his name did come up at times. Hundreds of delegates wore McCain stickers, but the overall response to McCain appeared lukewarm. President Bush was popular among members of the Virginia Republican Party in 2000 and 2004. It's apparent that McCain still has work to do to generate enthusiasm from the GOP's conservative base.

5. Will Republicans loyal to Rep. Tom Davis (Va.) throw their support behind Gilmore or Marshall, if they show up at the convention? Davis wasn't at the event. But GOP strategist Kenny Klinge, a former Davis consultant who doesn't like Gilmore, was working hard to round up votes for Marshall. A few other Davis loyalists remain bitter that Gilmore's work to reject a primary and hold a convention essentially forced their candidate from the Senate race last fall. Marshall's strength in Davis's Northern Virginia congressional district almost secured him the nomination. Marshall got 1,137 votes from delegates representing the 11th District, compared with Gilmore's 577.

6. How many Republican activists will attend? State party officials were expecting about 5,000 people, but it appeared as if about 3,000 showed up. The low turnout hampered Gilmore because it appeared as if Marshall did a better job of getting his supporters to the convention. There were plenty of empty seats in county delegations from the western part of the state, where support for Gilmore was strong but from where travel times to Richmond are longest. The turnout suggests that Gilmore and Virginia Republicans need to refine their get-out-the-vote operations as they prepare for the Nov. 4 general election.

7. Can Virginia Republican Party Chairman John H. Hager hold on to his job? In a result that stunned many GOP leaders, Del. Jeffrey M. Frederick (Prince William) defeated Hager for the chairman's job. Frederick's victory was so convincing that Hager conceded the race even before the results were announced. Frederick, 32, campaigned as the younger, more conservative alternative to Hager, 72. Frederick vows to shake up the party's staff and make major changes to its operations. Charles E. Judd, who served as executive director under Hager, and several other party officials including finance Chairman Fred Malek, resigned their positions Monday. The upheaval could impede the state party's efforts to gear up for the presidential race this fall. But Frederick says he thinks the changes will bolster the GOP's chances in next year's governor's and state legislative races.

8. Can Vice President Cheney still attract a crowd? About 500 Republicans gathered in downtown Richmond on Friday night to hear Cheney speak at the state party's annual fundraiser. Tickets started at $150 per plate, with others paying thousands more to attend a private reception with Cheney. Before he spoke, Hager told the crowd that Cheney would become a familiar face throughout Virginia when he leaves office in January, because he plans to build a house in McLean.

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