Former Va. Governor Finds a Forum

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 3, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn., Sept. 2 -- Former Virginia governor James S. Gilmore III flew 1,000 miles to the Republican National Convention this week to get something he is not getting much of at home: attention.

The Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, significantly down in the polls and fundraising, is widely considered a long shot to replace retiring Sen. John W. Warner (R).

But Tuesday, Gilmore spent the first part of a two-day trip to the Twin Cities doing interviews, attending fundraisers and being recognized by strangers who remember him from his gubernatorial days or his brief run for president last year.

"I have a national following. I'm a national leader. People expect me to be here," Gilmore said. "But I also came to see donors, and it's an opportunity to report on the national issues of the day."

After he was introduced as a Senate candidate at a fundraising breakfast, he spent hours strolling the two long rows of radio booths, dubbed "Radio Row," at the Xcel Energy Center, where reporters swarmed around him to ask for interviews.

"I love the guy," gushed Bianquita Walsh Cullum, a former Richmond radio reporter now with the Broadcasting Board of Governors, after she ran into Gilmore.

A relaxed Gilmore gave impromptu interviews to National Public Radio, Sirius XM Radio and other broadcasters, answering questions about presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin; Virginia's gradual shift toward the Democrats; and his own race against former governor Mark R. Warner.

"I'm looking forward to the day I can go into the Senate with solid, conservative leadership," he told one interviewer.

Gilmore, governor from 1998 to 2002, was at one time considered an up-and-coming star in the Republican Party. He was elected chairman of the Republican Governors Association, tapped by President Bush to lead the Republican National Committee and given a prime-time speaking spot at the national convention eight years ago.

But a series of budget problems in Virginia and personality clashes in Washington changed that. This summer, he narrowly won his party's Senate nomination, barely defeating a state delegate from Northern Virginia.

"Governor Gilmore still has work to do in rallying the Republican base and winning over independent and like-minded people," said Alexandria resident David Avella, a delegate to the convention who has previously expressed skepticism about Gilmore's chances.

Robert D. Holsworth, a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said Gilmore experienced an "extraordinary rise" at the start of his time in office but that his star had fallen by the end of the term.

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