Former Ally Of Gilmore To Endorse Warner

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 9, 2008

RICHMOND, June 8 -- Fairfax County Republican Vincent F. Callahan Jr., former chairman of the Virginia House Appropriations Committee and onetime ally of James S. Gilmore III, said he would announce Monday that he is supporting Democrat Mark R. Warner in the state's U.S. Senate race.

Callahan said Gilmore, Warner's GOP opponent, misled legislators and the public about the state's finances and the cost of his signature effort to eliminate the car tax when he was governor from 1998 to 2002.

"The figures Gilmore used were so utterly erroneous and far-fetched that they were mind-boggling," said Callahan, who helped Gilmore push his car tax proposal through the House of Delegates in the late 1990s.

Callahan's endorsement comes as Warner is working hard to get some Republicans behind his campaign against Gilmore, who secured the GOP nomination last weekend. Warner, who succeeded Gilmore as governor, said Callahan's endorsement "reflects the kind of bipartisan approach we brought to Richmond and hopefully we can bring to Washington."

Dick Leggitt, Gilmore's campaign manager, disputed Callahan's suggestion that Gilmore was fiscally reckless as governor. Leggitt also dismissed Warner's efforts to win over Republicans.

"The bottom line with the car tax is it put $1 billion into the hands of working men and women and it took it out of the hands of a group of powerful state legislators," said Leggitt. He later added, "We are comfortable [Warner] is going to get some support from 'country club Republicans,' and he is going to get a lot of support from tax collectors and tax spenders. But we are picking up support from a lot of working men and women."

Callahan will join former Senate president John H. Chichester Jr., also a Republican, on a conference call with reporters Monday to announce their support for Warner.

Chichester already is featured in a Warner TV commercial. But Callahan's decision to back Warner is somewhat of surprise because he has long ties to the Republican Party.

Callahan was the lead House sponsor of Gilmore's proposal to eliminate the car tax, also know as the personal property tax, in 1998. Gilmore ran for governor on a promise to get rid of the unpopular tax.

Gilmore and legislative leaders agreed to phase out the tax over five years. To make sure the state could afford it, they agreed to suspend the plan if revenue growth fell below 5 percent. In 2001, Chichester and Senate Republicans said the economy had slowed enough that they could not enact the fourth phase of the tax cut. But Callahan sided with Gilmore to keep it on track.

Callahan, who represented McLean from 1968 until this year, said he made a mistake because the Gilmore administration gave him bad information about state finances.

"I've never seen figures so far off the mark," said Callahan, who called Warner "among the best governors" he served with during his 40-year career in the legislature.

Warner accuses Gilmore of leaving the state with a $6 billion budget deficit. Warner said he slashed spending early in his term but was forced to push through a $1.4 billion tax increase in 2004. Callahan initially supported raising taxes that year but voted against the final bill because he said the tax increase was too big.

Warner and legislators also froze the phasing out of the car tax in 2004. Because the phaseout was never fully implemented, Virginia residents still pay the tax annually, although just a portion of what they would have paid had Gilmore not sought to eliminate it.

In an interview Friday on WTOP radio, Gilmore defended his record by noting that the state constitution requires that the budget be balanced every year.

"The state was not broke," Gilmore said. "It had over $1 billion in the bank when I left. The truth is the budget was balanced. . . . We put $1 billion in the rainy-day fund, and we gave a substantial tax cut."

Gilmore accuses Warner of spending too much money instead of keeping his 2001 campaign promise not to raise taxes.

"I kept my word and did what I said I was going to do," said Gilmore, who maintains his car tax cut proposal was "an excellent program that really helps regular people."

Although their differing views on each other's record as governor is shaping up as a major issue in the Senate race, Gilmore's campaign hopes to pivot toward a discussion of such federal issues as national security, energy policy and taxes.

Gilmore also is trying to make the Senate race a referendum on the presidential contest between Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). Gilmore says Obama is too liberal for Virginia. To try to insulate himself from the outcome of the presidential race if voters turn against Obama, Warner has begun an aggressive program of outreach to Republicans.

"I think you will see others step forward," said Warner, who has met with dozens of Republicans in recent weeks to seek their endorsements or ask them not to help Gilmore, according to Warner's staff and Republicans who have been contacted.

Callahan and Chichester note they are both supporting McCain. But one Virginia McCain supporter -- retiring Sen. John W. Warner (R) -- appears to be sticking with Gilmore this year. John Warner announced Friday that he has donated $2,000 to Gilmore's campaign, although he has yet to formally endorse him.

"I am confident we will be able to unite this party," Gilmore said Friday.

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