Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III is making an increasingly personal bid to secure Republican control over the legislature, going out of his way to give even routine appearances the kind of pungent partisan tang his electoral base may need to advance the GOP gains of recent years.
From regular radio appearances and elaborately staged policy pronouncements to videotaped fund-raising appeals and finely targeted stops along the campaign trail, Gilmore is zealously assaulting more than a century of Democratic control over the General Assembly.
"What he's doing is chasing money and races all over the state in a way that's more organized than it's ever been," said Franklin D. Margiotta of Fairfax County, a retired Air Force colonel and one of Gilmore's many foot soldiers in this year's ceaseless quest for campaign dollars and organizational advantages.
Wherever he goes in Virginia, Gilmore reminds voters about the monumental shift that would occur Nov. 2 if Republicans retain control of the state Senate and win enough seats to dictate who will be the next speaker of the House of Delegates.
"It's an historic time," Gilmore told his radio listeners recently. "It's time to have a state with a genuine two-party democracy."
This week, Gilmore traveled to southwestern Virginia to campaign for Jack S. "Chip" Hurley Jr., a lawyer from Bluefield who is engaged in a close race for the House of Delegates. The governor, Hurley said, spoke to a crowd at Hungry Mother State Park in Marion about the urgent need for GOP control of the General Assembly.
"He did not just say we need to have Republicans at all costs, just for the sake of a Republican majority," Hurley said. "It was for things he wants to accomplish, like his new drug policy."
A few days earlier, Gilmore had stood on the south portico of the state Capitol, flanked by uniformed police officers and basking in the admiration of his staff, to unveil a two-year, $60 million anti-drug proposal that he said would far outstrip what Democrats had tried against narcotics at the federal and state levels.
"The Clinton-Gore record on reducing illegal drug use clearly is disgraceful and damaging to America's future," Gilmore said. "The SABRE Project is a tough, but smart, Republican answer to the threat of illegal drugs in Virginia's communities."
Barry R. McCaffrey, the nation's drug control policy director, criticized the governor's "defeatism" and chided him for "politicizing" the issue.
Attending Gilmore's announcement on SABRE, an acronym for Substance Abuse Reduction Effort, were several comrades-in-arms from long-ago political battles. The group of GOP stalwarts included M. Boyd Marcus Jr., a longtime Gilmore friend who is the governor's chief of staff.
Marcus was also Gilmore's high-profile emissary Thursday at an $8,000 fund-raiser in downtown Richmond for state Sen. Jane H. Woods of Fairfax County, a moderate Republican who tangled with administration officials over health care issues earlier this year.
Today, though, Woods is in the fight of her career, and Gilmore--who is helping other occasional antagonists such as Del. James H. Dillard II, another Fairfax moderate--would rather have GOP votes some of the time than no Democratic votes all of the time.
Besides Marcus, another political professional at the SABRE announcement was Ray Allen, Marcus's former business partner and the party's top election strategist, who remembers past struggles against Democratic machines.
"I grew up with the deck always stacked against us--Democrats three- and four-to-one against us on money," Allen said. "This year, we're going to have as much as they do."
Or more, thanks largely to Gilmore and the party's most influential member in Northern Virginia, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, who represents Fairfax and Prince William counties.
Gilmore said he had collected $1.3 million through his New Majority political action committee and had more than $419,000 on hand in cash for the final weeks of the campaign. His Commonwealth Council PAC has raised nearly $638,000 and still has $342,000 in cash.
Gilmore aides now are drafting his basic stump speech for a frenetic month on the legislative campaign trail, formalizing themes the governor has been sounding on the run in recent days. His goal is to draw sharp differences between his agenda and that of his Democratic antagonists on issues ranging from tax relief and education to job creation and transportation.
"I'm not surprised he's pulling out all the partisan knives right now," said Craig K. Bieber, executive director of the state Democrats. "But whipping the troops into a frenzy seems a mite early."
Sometimes the tenacity produces a certain shrillness. In a recent fund-raising video intended for Republicans only, Gilmore complained that Virginia Democrats want to "elect leftist people" so that "left-turning, liberal-leaning" policies can triumph--words he rarely utters in public.
"If we lose this election," Gilmore said in the video, "it's going to mean that the historic opportunity that we have for change--the chance to bring in. . .more pure-democracy people--will pass us by."