Defying the Numbers, Gilmore Presses On

Posted September 3, 2008 at 6:54pm

Despite polling and fundraising numbers that show him badly trailing his Democratic opponent, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) expressed optimism Tuesday night about his chances of winning a U.S. Senate seat this fall.

“It’s turning our way,” Gilmore said on the convention floor, just before President Bush spoke to the crowd by a video link. The Republican’s opponent, former Gov. Mark Warner (D), gave the keynote address at last week’s Democratic National Convention in Denver.

“Mark revealed himself at the DNC,” said Gilmore, who is not scheduled to take the main stage in St. Paul, Minn., even though he would welcome the opportunity. “When he gave that speech, he showed he is a true-blue Democrat who is going to support [Sen. Barack] Obama.”

And that, Gilmore said, will have an impact on voters in the commonwealth.

“All this business about Obama carrying Virginia isn’t true,” Gilmore said, “[Sen. John] McCain is going to carry Virginia.”

Still, Democrats do have reason to be confident about Warner’s chances.

An August 9-10 automated poll by SurveyUSA showed Warner leading Gilmore 58 percent to 34 percent in a general election matchup. Warner also held an extraordinary cash advantage of $5.1 million to $117,000, according to June 30 Federal Election Commission reports.

Still, loyal commonwealth Republicans who have joined Gilmore in Minneapolis this week said polling and FEC numbers don’t paint the entire picture of a campaign that they said is constantly evolving.

“I think things are starting to happen,” Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Jeff Frederick said after Wednesday’s delegation breakfast.

“Gilmore’s fundraising has quadrupled in the last month,” Frederick said, and while he acknowledged that Gilmore will never be able to match Warner on a dollar-for-dollar basis — Warner is a multimillionaire, in addition to being a strong fundraiser — he said a cash influx is already helping get the word out.

“We’re going up on TV here soon,” Frederick said. And, he said, “a lot of these business groups that had decided a long time ago that they are supporting Mark Warner are starting to learn more about this guy.”

Gilmore agreed that a number of economic issues are starting to turn in his favor, including expanded domestic oil drilling and the “card check” bill, known as the Employee Free Choice Act to Democrats.

“The business community in Virginia has not noticed [card check]. Now, they’re calling me,” Gilmore said. “Mark Warner will support card check. I’ll oppose it.”

Virginia delegate Tim Hugo added that with several major tax cuts from the past decade set to expire in 2010 and 2011, the next Senator will be in an important position to help keep them from being put on the chopping block, as many leading Democrats have indicated is their preference. With that in mind, Hugo said, “the business community has now taken a second good look at Gilmore.”

But several Virginia GOP delegates acknowledged that time is on Warner’s side and that it will be up to party activists and Gilmore himself to bring the fight to Warner, rather than simply letting the Democrat sit back and run out the clock.

And in that effort, Frederick said the party has to deal with the added pressure of not getting any help from local and national media.

“The press has had this love affair with Mark Warner and have failed to do their due diligence about who this guy really is,” Frederick said.

One GOP delegate described Warner as a “rock star” who is more glitz and cash than substance. It’s a similar line of attack to the one McCain’s camp has used to turn Obama’s much-publicized popularity into a negative.

“We need to knock it into people’s heads that the press has obviously chosen their candidate and are not a reliable source for information on this race,” Frederick said.

Also in attendance on the convention floor Tuesday night were former Virginia Sen. George Allen (R), who lost re-election last cycle, and former Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore (R), who lost the 2005 gubernatorial race to Tim Kaine (D).