Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III and his Republican allies refocused today on the Nov. 2 legislative elections after decisive defeats in two of four GOP primaries where the governor put his influence on the line.
The two defeats in Tuesday's voting startled Gilmore advisers, tenacious in their pursuit of a legislative majority that could advance his conservative agenda.
But analysts in both major parties said that although Gilmore may suffer some short-term harm to his political reputation, his losses will not endure through the fall, when all 140 General Assembly seats are up for election.
"We just move forward," said Ray Allen Jr., a pollster and organizer for Republicans across the state who is a member of Gilmore's inner circle.
Gilmore's camp lost out in the state's most expensive primary ever on his home turf in Richmond, where Del. Anne G. Rhodes, a moderate who sometimes votes with the Democrats, defeated a wealthy insurance executive backed by the governor. The race cost the two candidates a combined total of at least $480,000.
In Prince William County, meanwhile, Robert S. FitzSimmonds III defeated Gilmore's state Senate candidate, G.E. Buck Waters. FitzSimmonds, executive director of antiabortion pregnancy centers in Prince William and Fauquier counties, will challenge Sen. Charles J. Colgan, a conservative Democrat and Catholic who also takes a strong stand against abortion.
"Come November, the story's going to be different," Allen said, referring to the Republicans' ultimate goal of capturing the assembly. "The end game is November."
Democrats sought to cast the elections as a referendum on Gilmore's leadership, saying he continues to be too ham-handed in dealing with members of his own party.
"It's about Gilmore," said Craig K. Bieber, executive director of the state Democratic Party. "His rhetoric about inclusion is hot air."
But voters were reacting not only to Gilmore, politicians said, but also to personalized and very local issues. The voting offered an interesting snapshot of the crazy quilt of Virginia politics, as some conservative candidates failed and others flourished, with or without Gilmore's backing.
FitzSimmonds, 47, said many Republicans told him they were angry about Gilmore's meddling in local races.
"There was a very strong feeling that the people in Richmond should stay out of it and let us decide this issue," said FitzSimmonds, who was immediately endorsed by Gilmore. "It's clear that this is a very conservative district; I'm a conservative candidate, and that's why I won."
Del. Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun), who had been endorsed by Gilmore, handily won renomination. In Black's 32nd District, Gilmore's support was an integral part of his campaign against David G. McWatters, a county supervisor from the Broad Run district, Republicans said.
Black received money and personal assistance from Gilmore and a political action committee controlled by the governor. McWatters described Gilmore as a "bully" and a "tyrant" and said the governor's participation in the election cost him the race.
"I think the governor's involvement in the race won the election because of his influence," McWatters said. "I can't run against the governor and another candidate at the same time."
One of the political action committees Gilmore controls donated $5,700 worth of polling, giving Black a feel for Loudoun voters' positions on various issues. And after campaign reports indicated McWatters had received $5,000 from a New York developer, Black requested the governor's PAC send him $5,000 to compensate. Black said that was enough to do a mailing to 15,000 likely voters.
Gilmore also recorded a message urging support for Black that was telephoned to about 15,000 potential voters. Black also sent a campaign mailing featuring a picture of Gilmore and a letter of support from the governor.
Doug Domenech, a former chairman of the Loudoun Republican Party, said Gilmore's efforts probably helped blunt McWatters's message that Black was out of sync with the average voter.
"A lot of people have tried to paint Dick Black as some far-right person," Domenech said. "The governor's endorsement . . . had to moderate some of the message that Dave McWatters was trying to give -- that Dick was out of step."
Black said Gilmore supported him because the two of them have worked closely on a variety of issues -- transportation and school funding, for instance -- and supported each other's agendas. Black said he thinks Gilmore's assistance helped but probably did not change the outcome of the race.
"Certainly there's never going to be an endorsement that's decisive in any race," Black said, "but of all the endorsements you can get in Virginia, there's probably none more valuable than Jim Gilmore's."
Staff writers Justin Blum and Dan Eggen contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Two General Assembly candidates endorsed by Gov. James S. Gilmore III lost the GOP primaries this week.