Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) put a lot on the line in the Republican legislative primaries last week, sending plenty of help to Northern Virginia to help his pals in the Washington suburbs.
In a Prince William County primary election, Gilmore visited Manassas last month to endorse G.E. Buck Waters at a $250-a-plate luncheon, which raised more than $10,000 for Waters. Thanks to that fund-raiser and other contributions, Waters spent more than $40,000 on his campaign through May 26 -- including $5,000 in free polling from a political action committee controlled by Gilmore. He estimated spending $50,000 total on the primary bid.
By comparison, his victorious opponent, Robert S. FitzSimmonds III, spent less than $1,500 during the same two-month period, and he estimated that his entire primary campaign would cost less than $12,000 once all the bills are paid.
One of the political action committees controlled by Gilmore also donated $5,700 worth of polling to Del. Richard H. Black, giving the successful candidate a feel for voters' positions on various issues in Loudoun County. And after campaign reports indicated Black's opponent, Loudoun County Supervisor David G. 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 voters. Black sent a campaign mailing featuring a picture of Gilmore and a letter of support from the governor. Earlier in the campaign season, Gilmore hosted a fund-raiser for Black.
Doug Domenech, a former chairman of Loudoun's Republican Party, said Gilmore's efforts probably helped blunt McWatters's message that Black was out of touch with the average voter.
"A lot of people have tried to paint Dick Black as some far-right person that's out of step with the average Loudoun voter," 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."
But there were other factors that helped drive Black's campaign and mobilize his core supporters. The Christian Coalition distributed guides for voters. And the National Rifle Association sent mailings and made phone calls on Black's behalf. Black said other groups aided his campaign, as well. He won handily.
Criticism of a Virginia in Gilmore's Image
Gordon C. Morse, a staunch Democrat and witty Williamsburg-based pundit, had these observations on last week's results:
"The air on the third floor of the state Capitol, where Virginia governors sit and courtiers flatter, can do strange things to a fellow. You begin to savor too much of your own glory, your step turns to strut and soon you're doing really dumb things . . . Jim Gilmore decided to remake Virginia in his own image."
"After all, this was supposed to be the year of the GOP when it finally controls both houses of the General Assembly. The Republicans may yet accomplish their long-sought goal of supremacy, but Gilmore's my-way-or-the-highway manner has not exactly helped the cause," Morse said.
Earley Wins With Association Appointment
Attorney General Mark L. Earley (R) had a lousy time in last week's primaries, watching his backed candidates lose, including Ruble A. Hord III in the Richmond race against Del. Anne G. "Panny" Rhodes.
But it wasn't an altogether bad news week for the lawyer and former legislator who is running for governor in 2001.
Earley is now secretary of the newly formed Republican Attorneys General Association.
"The RAGA will help us elect more Republicans to this key position to champion our common sense principles of limited government, personal responsibility and individual freedom," Earley said.
Poll Finds Satisfaction With Gilmore
Most Virginians think Gilmore is doing a good job, according to a new poll. The sampling released last week found that 54 percent of respondents rated Gilmore's job performance excellent or good, 34 percent rated it only fair and 7 percent called it poor.
"Gilmore's numbers are pretty good," said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc., which conducted the poll. "The economy is very good. Tax increases aren't really on the horizon. There have been some tax cuts."
The telephone poll of 628 registered voters was conducted statewide June 3 through 5. It has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.
Coker said Gilmore's job performance numbers were up from February 1998, his second month in office, when only 32 percent rated it excellent or good.
In July 1995, then-Gov. George Allen had a 53 percent job-approval rating after 18 months in office.
The poll was conducted for several Virginia news organizations, including the Daily Press of Newport News, the Daily Progress of Charlottesville and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk.
Staff writers R.H. Melton and Marylou Tousignant and the Associated Press contributed to this report.