Gillespie Seeks Hill Help in Virginia

Posted May 4, 2007 at 6:31pm

Virginia Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie is looking to mobilize the army of GOP staffers who commute to Capitol Hill every day from the commonwealth, calling them an untapped resource that could boost the party’s prospects in state legislative elections this fall.

The ultimate goal of the project is to create a database of loyal partisans who could be called upon to help with voter turnout and fundraising and, at the very least, raise awareness about key General Assembly races.

“It’s part of an overall effort to get Hill Republicans who live in Virginia more involved in Virginia politics,” Gillespie said in a brief interview Friday. “Right now it is a largely untapped resource for the Republican Party of Virginia and I’m trying to change that.”

The first organizational meeting for the effort took place two weeks ago at Republican National Committee headquarters. Fewer than 20 GOP staffers attended the get-together, which Gillespie was not able to make.

The aides who came were essentially assigned the task of becoming recruiters for the database, and they are undertaking a survey of Republican offices to locate staffers who live in Northern Virginia. The group plans to meet again later this month.

Those familiar with the effort stressed that staffers are using their own time and resources for the project, so as to not violate ethics rules that prohibit performing political work on the government’s dime.

Gillespie, himself a former senior Hill aide, is one of Washington, D.C.’s highest-profile lobbyists and an ex-RNC chairman. He assumed the helm of the state GOP at the beginning of this year.

He said that while the Congressional aides focus on national problems and the issues of their bosses’ districts in their work every day, they need to be reminded not to lose focus of the parochial politics in their own backyard.

“What I’m trying to do is foster a greater mentality that it’s fine to root for the [University of Texas] Longhorns on Saturday afternoon, but you’re a Virginia resident,” Gillespie said. “You drive on Virginia roads, you pay Virginia taxes and your children are in Virginia schools — and you need to vote and be involved here.”

All 100 of the House of Delegates seats and all 40 state Senators are up for re-election in November. Republicans currently hold a 57-40 majority in the House (there are also three Independents) and a 23-17 majority in the Senate.

Northern Virginia, in particular, is a key battleground, with Democrats looking to pick up seats in a region that has trended away from the GOP in recent elections. Democrats have won the past two statewide elections, boosted by a strong turnout in the burgeoning suburbs in Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties.

GOP state Sens. Ken Cuccinelli, Jay O’Brien and Jeannemarie Devolites Davis are being targeted by Democrats this year in Northern Virginia. Devolites Davis is the wife of Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.).

Republicans, meanwhile, are hoping to defeat state Sen. Edd Houck (D), whose district includes portions of Spotsylvania County and Fredericksburg.

Every two years, thousands of Hill staffers fan out across the country to volunteer on Congressional and presidential campaigns, either working toward re-electing their own boss or through grass-roots, voter-turnout programs run by the campaign committees. But Virginia — which hosts gubernatorial and legislative races in odd years — has elections every year, and this year there’s no competition with other national races for staffers’ time and energy.

“We’re not all tied up with our own [bosses’] re-elections,” said one of the staffers involved in the effort. “It’s a chance for us to be citizen activists.”

Others familiar with the project said the Hill is only a natural starting place, and that the hope is the database will grow to include friends, neighbors and even non-Virginia residents who want to become involved.

While the Potomac partisan divide has long been joked about in political circles, Gillespie acknowledged the truth in the adage that Republican Hill staffers by and large live in culturally conservative Virginia while the majority of Democratic aides live in the District and Maryland, where the politics are more liberal.

It is possible that Hill aides could be enlisted to travel to other parts of the state later this fall as part of the GOP’s get-out-the-vote efforts. But Gillespie also said it’s likely that most won’t have to go very far.

“We’ve got plenty of need for them in Northern Virginia,” he said alluding to the region’s recent political trends. “We can stem that tide and reverse it.”