GOP Aiming to Plant Seeds of Its Resurgence in Va. Governor's Race

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks Dec. 10 in support of Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, right, in his bid to be governor. The GOP sees the race as a chance to regain its footing after recent defeats.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks Dec. 10 in support of Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, right, in his bid to be governor. The GOP sees the race as a chance to regain its footing after recent defeats. (By Alexa Welch Edlund -- Richmond Times-dispatch Via Associated Press)
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By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 25, 2008

RICHMOND, Dec. 24 -- Down-and-out Republicans are pinning their hopes for a national comeback on Virginia.

They are investing heavily in Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell's 2009 gubernatorial campaign, as they fight to win back the governor's mansion in a state that has been trending from red to blue.

A succession of national GOP figures have gotten involved. Former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal have helped McDonnell raise almost half a million dollars at a pair of events. Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani will host two fundraisers next month. And Mike Huckabee, the guitar-playing Baptist preacher and former Arkansas governor, will appear with McDonnell in the spring.

The race in Virginia will present the first major test for a Republican Party battered by defeats in state and national races across the country this year. The contest will come a year before much of the rest of the nation returns to the polls, for the 2010 midterm elections, and is likely to set the tone for the party moving forward.

"It's an important proving ground," said Robert M. "Mike" Duncan, Republican National Committee chairman. "It helps us get back momentum. It shows we can still win elections."

McDonnell, 54, became the Republican nominee for governor last month after no one else filed to run by the deadline. Days later, he flew to Miami to solicit support from the country's Republican governors at their annual meeting.

Govs. Sarah Palin (Alaska), Rick Perry (Tex.), Charlie Crist (Fla.) and Mark Sanford (S.C.) are all expected to host fundraisers for McDonnell, GOP sources said. McDonnell has 10 fundraisers scheduled across the country in the next six months.

"Many Republicans are looking to win again," McDonnell said. "I see a renewed hunger among donors and activists who are just tired of losing."

In recent years, Virginia Democrats captured two successive gubernatorial elections, both U.S. Senate seats and control of the state Senate. This year, a Democratic presidential nominee carried the state for the first time in more than four decades.

Many Virginia Republicans consider a win crucial, at a time when Virginia Republicans just lost three congressional seats. The next governor will play an important role in redistricting in 2010.

"The Republicans understand that they performed abysmally at the polls this past November," state Democratic Party Chairman C. Richard Cranwell said. "They want to stop the bleeding."

McDonnell said he is counting on the 2009 elections in Virginia playing out differently from this year's federal elections, when an unpopular president and a national economic crisis helped Democrats.


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