Imagine a patient who upon hearing a potentially life-threatening diagnosis embarks on a spate of binge drinking and chain smoking. That should give you a pretty good idea of what it was like to be a Virginia Republican this past week.
Following his stunning 11th hour decision not to run for President last year, it was pretty clear that former Democratic governor Mark Warner would try to re-enter politics at some lower, more manageable level. His announcement this week that he would try for the Senate in 2008 came as no surprise following the retirement of the namesake he ran against as "Mark Not John" in '96.
Instead of marshaling a real effort to find a candidate who could go toe-to-toe with the popular Warner, Virginia's GOP has so far opted to go down the merry path to obliteration in '08.
Running on the Republican side is Tom Davis, the tactically shrewd Fairfax County Congressman who chaired the NRCC and is patron to Northern Virginia's dwindling GOP machine. He'll face former governor Jim Gilmore, whose 11th place Presidential candidacy cum publicity stunt generated precisely one item worth a mild chuckle: popularizing the term "Rudy McRomney."
A Rasmussen poll out this week shows just how steep a climb both Davis and Gilmore face. If the election were held today, the relatively moderate Davis would lose to Warner 57 to 30 percent. Gilmore, the more conservative of the two, gets crushed by a slightly less daunting 54 to 34 percent, but has little room to grow given that he is widely known as a former governor.
Rather than staying on the sidelines to wait for a more viable choice, Virginia Republicans are rushing into the fray of the Davis-Gilmore food fight. Gilmore opened by announcing the endorsement of Commonwealth's Republican national committeeman and committeewoman. Davis on Wednesday countered with 2005 gubernational nominee Jerry Kilgore and a list of eight GOP Congressional district chairs supporting his candidacy.
This is a fight unguided by principle or purpose. If you support Tom Davis, it's likely because you're a member of or indebted to The Tom Davis Machine. If you support Jim Gilmore, it's probably because you can't stand Tom Davis. Defeating (or severely bruising) Mark Warner or rebuilding the Republican Party in Virginia doesn't even factor into the equation. It's all about settling scores within the party, and who can be the last to breathe fresh air as the Titanic swirls to the ocean bed.
Virginia can do better.