Warrenton Mayor George B. Fitch knows about uphill fights.
Well, downhill, actually. He's the founder of the world-famous Jamaican bobsled team, the unlikely warm-weather athletes who were something of a novelty act at the 1988 Olympics and later became the subject of a Disney movie.
Now, the international trade consultant, one-time sports promoter and political leader of a Northern Virginia town of 8,000 is seriously considering an idea that he admits is just as much of a long shot: running for the Republican nomination to be governor of Virginia. "I thought it was somewhat of a preposterous idea, that the mayor of a town, a small town, could jump to statewide office," Fitch, 56, said. "Based on input, it became less and less preposterous."
Now that the 2004 General Assembly session has finally ended -- 118 days after it opened -- Virginia's 2005 political season is getting underway. And it seems there's an avalanche of interest in running for statewide office.
Not that running for office is easy -- or cheap. In 2001, the candidates for governor spent a combined $34 million on their campaigns. Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) spent $20 million of that himself and at one point was spending $750,000 a week on TV ads.
Nevertheless, Del. J. Chapman Petersen (Fairfax) has said he is running for the Democratic nomination to be lieutenant governor, as are former senator Leslie L. Byrne and Del. Viola O. Baskerville (Richmond). On the Republican side, Del. Joe T. May (Loudoun), Sen. Bill Bolling (Hanover), Northern Virginia lawyer Gil Davis and Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton all want the job.
A few people are seeking the attorney general's job, now held by Jerry W. Kilgore, a Republican who wants to be governor. They include Democratic Sens. John S. Edwards (Roanoke) and R. Creigh Deeds (Bath) as well as Republican Del. Robert F. McDonnell (Virginia Beach) and Richmond lawyer Steve Baril.
But it's the unlikely candidates seeking the state's top job that have some jaws dropping.
In addition to Fitch, longtime Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. (R-Winchester) is considering a run for the governorship, perhaps as an independent.
Asked about that possibility, Potts offered a curt "no comment" and said he will "make that decision on my own timetable." But then he started to sound very much like a candidate with ambitions beyond his state Senate district.
"I'm extremely disturbed about the direction of the Republican Party," Potts said. "I surely represent the mainstream of the Republican Party."
In moments, Potts is on a tear about how independent-minded Republicans such as U.S. Sen John McCain (R-Ariz.), former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor would not be welcome in the Republican Party in Virginia.
"Barry Goldwater wouldn't be welcome in the RPV's central committee," Potts said.
So his discomfort is with the Republican Party?
"My discomfort is with Kilgore, too," Potts said. "No hope, no roads, no schools, no vision. Just no, no, no."
Kilgore spokesman Tim Murtaugh noted that Giuliani was a featured guest at a Kilgore fundraiser in May of 2003, helping to raise almost $500,000 for the party. Murtaugh dismissed the potential challenges by Potts and Fitch, saying Kilgore is a sure bet to be the Republican candidate running against Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, the leading Democratic candidate.
"The attorney general has always believed that the Republican nomination for governor is something he would have to earn," Murtaugh said. "We believe Virginians will gravitate to the positive message he will put forward."
Kilgore campaign officials said that on Friday their candidate will be formally endorsed by all of the state's Republican members of Congress, 77 of the 87 Republican or independent state legislators, and 125 of the 135 state Republican committee chairmen.
"The party is going to be united behind him," Murtaugh said.
Potts and Fitch said they are well aware that Kilgore is the presumptive nominee.
And, yes, Fitch and Potts both know that Kilgore has raised a lot of money for the June 2005 primary campaign -- he has more than $1.5 million on hand, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
But Potts said he refuses to "march in lock step" with other Republicans behind Kilgore.
And Fitch said several wealthy individuals who live in the rural Piedmont area -- he won't name them for now -- have encouraged him to bring a low-tax, slow-growth mentality to the race. He said they have pledged money, big money, if he decides to run.
And he said he will run only if he decides that Virginians want something other than politics as usual. "Is it accomplishments and new ideas that address Virginia's problems?" Fitch said. "Or is it the status and traditions of Virginia politics?"
Fitch said he supports more vigorous growth controls for local communities such as Warrenton. He thinks state spending could and should be slashed. And he doesn't like debt.
"If I did this, it would be to take what I've done to the state level," Fitch said. "It's been a deliberate deliberation."