Gillespie Puts Va. In Play For GOP

In deeply divided Virginia, there’s rare bipartisan agreement — former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie is the strongest candidate the GOP could field against Sen. Mark Warner (D). 

Even Democrats admit Republicans accomplished a coup by landing Gillespie, a former top adviser to President George W. Bush and powerhouse lobbyist. But both parties concur the popular Warner will be hard to oust.

Even if the newly minted candidate isn’t favored yet in the commonwealth contest, there seems to be nothing but positives to landing Gillespie for the GOP. His candidacy at least gives Republicans a chance to contest Virginia, which many had written off months ago. 

Gillespie’s entrance also forces Democrats into yet another competitive race, further expanding an already dismal map, where they’re defending many vulnerable incumbents in red states to keep Senate control. Republican strategists believe if President Obama’s numbers are bad enough in Virginia on Election Day, Warner could be vulnerable.

Gillespie will also have to win the nomination in a GOP convention, which often boosts conservatives over establishment Republicans. His two opponents appear to be weak, and conservative outside groups showed no interest in taking on Gillespie, but there’s no guarantee he’ll win the nomination. After a series of bruising intraparty squabbles last year that many establishment Republicans believe cost them a chance at the governor’s mansion, they don’t want that to happen again. 

“Gillespie gives us the best shot, hands down. But he's really going to have to have a lot of things go in his favor,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who has worked on a number of Virginia races.

“For him to win, he's going to have to give Virginians a reason to support him beyond ObamaCare and the president's abysmal record. And he's going to need Warner to make some mistakes on the campaign trail.”

Read more from Cameron Joseph at The Hill

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