WASHINGTON (AP) — Ed Gillespie, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, is telling fellow Republicans that he intends to run for the Senate in Virginia, according to GOP officials.
A bid by Gillespie would set up an expensive and high-profile race against first-term Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, the state's former governor who has more than $7 million for his re-election and has not been considered among the vulnerable Democrats in the midterm elections.
Gillespie declined to confirm his plans but commented about his interest.
"As I've made clear, I am talking to a lot of my fellow Republicans in Virginia about running against Mark Warner," he said in a statement. "I've been encouraged by people all across our party and our commonwealth. The filing deadline is February 1st, so I will be announcing my intentions in the near future."
Gillespie was an adviser to 2012 Republican president candidate Mitt Romney and served in George W. Bush's administration.
The Republican officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss private deliberations.
Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Democrats have been successful in Virginia, where Democrat Terry McAuliffe, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, recently won the governorship.
Cecil predicted a Warner win. "Virginians don't want to elect a D.C. shadow lobbyist like Ed Gillespie who epitomizes the reckless and irresponsible Republican economic agenda," Cecil said. "Gillespie won't work to strengthen Virginia's economy, cut the nation's debt or work to find common ground in Washington the way Mark Warner has done, and Virginians know that."
Morton Blackwell, a member of the Republican National Committee from Virginia, said he has "strongly encouraged" Gillespie to run for Senate this year. Gillespie, who leads the Republican State Leadership Committee, which aims to elect Republicans to state offices around the nation, would bring to the race a robust statewide and national network of supporters, Blackwell said.
Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell said he's also encouraged Gillespie to run and predicts that Warner will be "very vulnerable."
Howell said he believes Warner's support of President Barack Obama's health care law, whose rollout has been plagued with problems, will give Gillespie a strong advantage in the race.
Democrats won all three major statewide contests last year, and Obama carried Virginia in both 2008 and 2012.
"I think this year is going to be very different," Howell said.
Republicans will pick their nominee in June at a party convention in Roanoke. Two other candidates, Shak Hill and Howie Lind, are also vying for the GOP nomination.
Patrick Murphy, Lind's campaign manager, said his candidate is well positioned to beat Gillespie.
"Everything is going in our direction," Murphy said.
Associated Press writers Ken Thomas and Donna Cassata in Washington contributed to this report.