Before he can take on Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie will have to unite a fractious Virginia GOP.
Gillespie’s interest in a Senate campaign has excited national Republicans, who expect him to run. But the commonwealth’s nomination process, a June convention of GOP activists, has often boosted hard-line Tea Party and social conservatives over those preferred by national strategists, which has led to disastrous results for the party.
That process helped former state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) scare off then-Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), a more centrist candidate, from running for governor, and nominated controversial Rev. E.W. Jackson (R) as Cuccinelli’s running mate. Both lost in the fall as Democrats swept statewide offices for the first time in decades.
A closer-than-expected Cuccinelli loss left both sides pointing fingers. Tea Party activists said the national party had abandoned them by not spending enough, while establishment Republicans said Cuccinelli had disqualified himself and cost the party an otherwise winnable race.
While Gillespie would give Republicans a top-tier candidate to take on the popular senator and former governor, first the longtime GOP strategist will have to smooth over tensions between the camps.
GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said Gillespie’s early moves — keeping a relatively low profile and meeting with activists before making an announcement — could help endear him to activists.
“He has to go in there and really do a lot of groundwork with the people who are going to be in the convention,” he said.