Jim Gilmore is running for president.
He’s just not campaigning for president. That’s what sets him apart.
In fact, since Gilmore — a former governor of Virginia — officially got into the presidential race on July 30, he has not held a single formal campaign event with actual voters present.
No handshakes in Iowa. No rallies in New Hampshire. Nothing. Gilmore didn’t even meet anyone at his kickoff rally — there was no kickoff rally. Just a video of Gilmore, speaking to the camera alone.
Since then, Gilmore says, he’s just been too focused on setting up his campaign to . . . campaign.
“We’re too busy getting the pieces in place. It’s significant,” he said in an interview. “You have to decide how you’re going to announce, and whether you’re going to do a ‘theater’ announcement. We chose a video. You’ve got to prepare for that. We’ve had numerous appearances, at this point, on all the networks. You have to prepare for that.”
Meet the hermit candidate of 2015.
In every election, there are hopeless cases. In this year’s huge Republican field, there are more than usual. Fallen stars from past elections. Rising stars who never made it. Bypassed pols screaming to be heard.
But strangest of them all might be Gilmore — a man desperately in need of voters, but in no apparent hurry to meet them.
Right now, Gilmore is so far behind that CNN might not even let him debate the other long shots. To be admitted to the undercard, lower-tier debate on Sept. 16, candidates must have averaged 1 percent in three major national polls.
Gilmore says it’s unfair to expect that much from him.
“I’m just going to tell you straight up, okay? I think that these standards of poll numbers are ridiculous,” he said. This early in the race, he said, polls don’t capture which candidates are truly substantive: “It’s about flamboyance and name identification.”
Right now, Gilmore, 65, has little of either.
He last won an election, to governor, in 1997. He served in that position until 2002. He spent one year as chairman of the Republican National Committee, before resigning amid infighting with the George W. Bush administration.
Since then, Gilmore has made two more tries for elective office. Neither went well. He got into the 2008 presidential race in April 2007. He got out three months later, blaming a lack of money. Later in the same cycle, he ran against Democrat Mark R. Warner for a U.S. Senate seat and got clobbered by 31 points.
This year, though, Gilmore says he looked at the GOP field, which was already at 16 candidates, and saw nobody better than him.
“Some may ask, ‘Why am I running?’ That’s a fair question that deserves a straight answer,” Gilmore said in his video. “Our current Washington leadership is guiding America on a path to decline, and I can reverse that decline.”
Since then, Gilmore has been not so much behind as invisible.
In the last nine major national polls of GOP voters, he received less than 1 percent eight times. He is literally too far behind for Donald Trump to insult. When New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd asked Trump about his rivals, he breathed fire at the others, but was stumped by Gilmore.
“Him, I don’t know,” Trump said.
Still, even with that huge hill to climb, Gilmore has not panicked. In fact, one week after he got into the race, he took his family on a week-long trip to Europe. “It was his 38th wedding anniversary, and they had planned this trip [at] the beginning of the year,” Gilmore’s paid adviser Boyd Marcus said.
Now, Gilmore said, he is back, and implementing a plan. A slow-moving, very cheap plan. (He wouldn’t say how much money he has raised.)
Gilmore did not open a headquarters until a month into his campaign. He didn’t hire any staffers in South Carolina — a state key to his hopes — until last week. He has not bought any television ads. He would not say when he plans to buy TV ads.
“You haven’t asked me anything about my campaign,” Gilmore said. “I’m not being aggressive with you. I like you fine. But I’m saying that so far in this interview you haven’t asked me anything about the campaign. You’ve asked me about how much money you’ve raised. You know, ‘What are your poll numbers?’ It’s all process. And it’s why the press is not covering the race appropriately.”
Gilmore says he is not in this race to sell a book or raise his profile in national politics. He wants to win. His plan is to get as much exposure as he can free, by appearing as a talking head on cable TV. In those short bites, he can talk about his policy ideas: lowering tax rates, strengthening the military, offering some illegal immigrants a path to legal status but not citizenship.
Then, all Gilmore has to do is wait for 16 other candidates to implode. And for voters to remember that ex-governor they saw on CNN.
“The Rasmussen poll showed me in 12th place,” Gilmore said, indicating it was evidence his plan was working. That was in early August, and it had him all the way up to 1.34 percent, ahead of five other long shots. “Now, I insist on being optimistic.”
In the middle of last month, this reporter asked Gilmore if he was planning any in-person campaign events in states such as New Hampshire. This reporter said he would come along to see Gilmore campaign in person.
“Really, would you?” Gilmore said, sounding surprised.
Gilmore is scheduled to make a few in-person appearances this week: He will take part in a rally against the Iran nuclear deal Wednesday and go to New Hampshire this weekend to speak at several events that include other presidential candidates.
Gilmore disputed the idea that he had not been out meeting voters in person. “That’s not true,” he said. “I just made another appearance on this past Saturday,” at an event in Petersburg, Va., he said.
But, as it turns out, that was not exactly a campaign event. It was just a party — the “Boots on the Ground Soiree” put on by the Virginia Federation of Republican Women to raise money for elephant conservation — that Gilmore attended.