What does 2014 hold for Ed Gillespie, and his hopes of beating incumbent Democratic senator Mark Warner?
Could Gillespie fall flat on his face as a Senate candidate? Theoretically; Virginia’s current governor, Terry McAuliffe, will tell you& it’s one thing to be a party chairman and another thing to run for office. McAuliffe stumbled badly in his first bid for governor in 2009, spending $8.2 million to win 26 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary.
But it’s more likely Gillespie adjusts to life as a candidate pretty handily. Gillespie is familiar with appearing on national television, and debated McAuliffe on stage when the pair were opposing party chairmen. He’s worked in the policy realm at the White House as counselor. He’s got an extensive network of potential donors from his days running the Republican National Committee and chairing the Republican State Legislative Committee. He’ll have all kinds of big GOP names in for rallies and fundraisers. (Gillespie was a senior adviser to the Romney campaign and was communications director for John Kasich’s short-lived 2000 presidential campaign.) He’s got a local network of supporters and potential donors from chairing Bob McDonnell’s campaign in 2009.
The floor for a solid Republican campaign in a midterm election is probably around Ken Cuccinelli’s 45.2 percent. (With no third-party option in the state attorney-general race, Republican Mark Obenshain won 49.8 percent, losing by less than 200 votes with 2.2 million cast.) It’s quite possible Gillespie wins, particularly if Warner’s centrist image and rhetoric are contrasted with his reliably Democratic voting record — Warner’s lifetime ACU rating is 12.5 out of a possible 100. Gillespie won’t get drastically outspent the way Cuccinelli did.
It’s also easy to picture Gilespie doing well, but falling short of a majority against Warner — Democrats will pull out all the stops to protect their incumbent in a state McAuliffe won and Obama carried twice.
If Gillespie does not win, but comes close, he’ll set himself up as a solid GOP candidate in the next statewide race, the one for governor in 2017.