Former Virginia Governor and current US Senator Mark Warner consistently pulls in strong approval ratings and has been broadly viewed as a safe incumbent heading into the 2014 cycle. Is his job security status about to shift? Prominent Republican Ed Gillespie has just announced his decision to take the plunge and challenge Warner -- a move that could shake up the race:
Washington Post columnist and fellow Bush administration alumnus Marc Thiessen penned a piece earlier in the week about why Democrats should be nervous over a Gillespie candidacy:
Mark Warner (D-Va.) is in a lot more trouble than it seems. Despite his ample war chest and approval ratings, only 50 percent of Virginians say Warner should get a second term. And independents, by a margin of 49 to 43 percent, say they would rather have someone new in Virginia’s Senate seat. Moreover, Warner will have to defend his deciding vote for Obamacare during a midterm election that will likely be driven by voter anger over Obamacare. Virginians upset about President Obama’s false promise that “If you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan” will be surprised to discover that Warner made the same false pledge....I worked closely with Gillespie in the White House, and he was a forceful champion for conservative policies in the Bush administration. When some White House advisers tried to get President Bush to support cap and trade, Gillespie stopped it cold. He opposed the auto bailout. On his advice, Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Henry Hyde for his years of service to the pro-life cause, invited March for Life participants to the White House and spoke to the Conservative Political Action Conference for the first time. He’s a principled and courageous conservative who in his heart is still that blue-collar kid stocking grocery shelves, parking cars and dreaming the American Dream.
Gillespie's ties to the Bush administration and years as an influential lobbyist will be a double-edged sword in this campaign. Democrats will surely use that history against him (conveniently ignoring the cronyist on steroids they just supported for governor), aggressively tying him to some of President Bush's least popular policies, and branding him as a connected insider. They're already attacking him from the right, hoping to stir dissension within the GOP base. On the other side of the ledger, Gillespie's network is vast. He's made many powerful friends over the years and is widely admired on the Right. He'll be a fundraising force, he's very bright, and he's a strong, clear communicator. It certainly looks like an uphill climb, but if anyone is equipped with the experience, temperament and network of allies to take down Mark Warner, it's Ed Gillespie. Stay tuned....
Disclosure: I served as an intern in the Bush White House in 2007, where I worked in the communications shop. Ed Gillespie was my boss' boss' boss' boss, if memory serves. I've met Mr. Gillespie twice; once in the final weeks of my internship in the West Wing (when he hosted a small luncheon for my office's interns), and a second time at a pro-life event several years later.