Virginia recently elected a close ally of President Bill Clinton as governor. Could the Old Dominion follow that up by sending a top aide to President George W. Bush to the U.S. Senate?
Politico reported this weekend that Ed Gillespie, who served as a senior Bush White House adviser, is weighing a challenge next year to Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat.
A veteran Republican operative, Gillespie chaired the Republican National Committee in 2004, when Bush was re-elected and the party gained seats in the House and Senate. He’s also the co-founder of Quinn, Gillespie, a top Washington lobbying firm, where his clients included heavyweights like Bank of America, AT&T, and Verizon. (Gillespie is no longer active with the firm.)
In an email to msnbc.com, Gillespie said he’d “heard from many friends from across Virginia urging me to run,” adding that “Mark Warner’s not turned out to be the senator so many Virginians thought he would be.”
“Between now and the convention in June, our party will work through the best way to challenge Senator Warner, knowing that if we can win in Virginia we’ll very likely win control of the Senate for the last two years of the Obama Presidency, which would have a major impact on the future of the country,” Gillespie wrote.
Republicans are still searching for a top challenger to Warner, hoping to rebound from a string of recent losses in Virginia, formerly a solid red state. In addition to failing to hold Virginia in the last two presidential elections, the party was swept in last month’s statewide races, pending a recount in the attorney general contest.
If Gillespie pulls the trigger, it would be the third straight year that a former national party chairman ran for office in Virginia. In 2012, former governor and DNC chair Tim Kaine won an open Senate seat. And last month, another former DNC chair, Clinton ally Terry McAuliffe, was elected governor.
The Cook Political Report currently lists the Virginia Senate race as “Solid Democratic.” But Gillespie’s entrance would bring a big name and financial muscle to the contest. The GOP needs to pick up six seats to win control of the Senate.
Gillespie would first have to win a June party convention that lately has become a fight between the party’s mainstream and conservative wings. Air Force veteran Shak Hill and former Navy officer Howie Lind are already running but are unknown statewide. State Senator Jeff McWaters is also weighing a bid. Ken Cuccinelli, who lost the governor’s race to McAuliffe last month, took his name off the list this weekend.
McAuliffe was criticized in his race for lacking strong ties to the commonwealth. That likely won’t be a problem for Gillespie, a former chair of the state party who also chaired Gov. Bob McDonnell’s successful 2009 campaign.