Ed Gilllespie at the end of his 2014 Senate race. (Kate Patterson/For The Washington Post)

Former White House adviser and Republican U.S. Senate nominee Ed Gillespie confirmed Friday that he plans to run to become the governor of Virginia in 2017.

Word of Gillespie’s plans leaked this week after a state senator who was widely considered the GOP’s most likely nominee said he would not run. But Gillespie had not commented until Friday.

“My focus right now is helping keep our Republican majority in the General Assembly, and next year it will be ensuring that our Republican presidential nominee wins Virginia,” Gillespie said in an e-mail to The Washington Post.

“But with my friend Mark Obenshain making clear he won’t be running in 2017, I’ll start laying a foundation to run myself after our elections here are over next month,” he said.

Gillespie was referring to state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-
Rockingham), who on Monday announced that he would not seek the GOP’s 2017 gubernatorial nomination.

Obenshain, a friend and ally of Gillespie’s, had been considered the favorite for the party’s nomination after narrowly losing the race for attorney general in 2013.

Gillespie is a political operative, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and counselor to President George W. Bush. He nearly unseated U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) last year in a closer-than-expected race.

Former attorney general Ken Cuccinelli II, who narrowly lost the 2013 gubernatorial race, indicated Friday that he has not ruled out a run for the Republican nomination. “Look,” he said during a CNN interview, “this is a race that [my wife] Teiro and I have only just begun to think about.”

On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam is the only candidate running to succeed term-limited Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D).

Gillespie’s confirmation of his plans prompted the Democratic Governors Association to issue a statement describing him as a one-time lobbyist for the failed energy giant Enron.

“We welcome Ed Gillespie to run on his substantial record of helping George W. Bush drive the American economy into the ground and making millions as a lobbyist for companies like Enron,” DGA spokesman Jared Leopold said in the statement.

“By announcing a campaign for the Republican nomination for Governor, Gillespie has promised Virginians that he will pander to the Tea Party extremists who dominate the Republican caucus system,” the statement said.

During the Senate race, Warner aired a TV ad linking Gillespie to Enron . At the time, Gillespie’s campaign spokesman called Warner’s attack dated, given that Gillespie had not been a registered lobbyist since 2007.

The Republican left the bipartisan Quinn Gillespie & Associates that year for a job at the White House and ran a consulting firm before launching his Senate campaign.