- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 29, 2000

RICHMOND Virginia Attorney General Mark L. Earley formally announced Tuesday he is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, leaving a trio of candidates competing for the state's top post.

Mr. Earley took the leap by beginning a nine-day bus tour of the state, with yesterday being a sort of "This is Your Life" tour of his high school, his college and his old law firm, where he worked while serving as a state senator, before being elected attorney general in 1997.

He made his candidacy official yesterday evening at a rally at the Arthur Ashe Center in Richmond, telling the gathered supporters: "I know that I face a tough campaign ahead, and I will not prevail unless I have your help. But the office of governor in Virginia is not a prize to be won, it is a duty to be done. It is not a place for beginners, it is a place for leaders."

Now he and the other Republican hopeful, Lt. Gov. John H. Hager, have just a few months before the two-tiered nominating process begins to show voters which one can best match the third candidate, presumptive Democratic nominee Mark R. Warner, the wealthy Northern Virginia businessman and 1996 U.S. Senate candidate on whom Democrats have pinned their hopes of victory. He is not related to Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican.

Republicans will choose their candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general at a nominating convention June 2. Democrats will choose their candidates in a primary June 12.

Mr. Earley had formed an exploratory committee a little more than a year ago and had said he would make his formal announcement after this November's election.

Yesterday, he laid out a broad framework for an Earley governorship, with a heavy focus on equal rights and opportunity for all Virginians.

"The governor can speak for all Virginians in a way no one else really can. The governor has the opportunity to set the standard and the tone that no one else has. And the governor has the opportunity to be the steward of this promise for all Virginians in the way that no one else has," he said.

The 46-year-old son of a shipyard worker began his tour Monday with a meeting at the Filipino Cultural Center in Virginia Beach a nod to the people who first got him interested in politics and freedom when he spent two years at the University of the Philippines in the late 1970s, during the time when President Ferdinand Marcos had declared martial law and suspended Congress there.

Yesterday, he spoke to the government class at his alma mater, Indian River High School, still being taught by the same teacher he had when he was a student. He then attended a lunch at his old law firm in Norfolk and a reception at William and Mary, where he got his bachelor's and law degrees.

Mr. Hager, his opponent for the Republican nomination, is a retired tobacco company executive who was elected lieutenant governor on the same slate as Mr. Earley in 1997.

Mr. Hager holds his annual gala dinner tonight and hopes to raise a good chunk of the more than $1 million his advisers think will be necessary to run a campaign through the convention. He made his candidacy official in June.

Both men face an immediate test in a little more than a week, when the Republican state central committee will meet in Roanoke to decide the schedule for mass meetings leading up to the nominating convention June 1-2.

Mr. Hager's camp is objecting to a draft proposal being circulated by party insiders who also happen to be candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general that calls for a compressed schedule of meetings, at which local Republicans will select delegates who will decide the nominee at the state convention. That would cramp Mr. Hager's ability to attend as many meetings as he can.

The draft also calls for a Feb. 1 deadline to decide which office candidates will seek, a move making it impossible for Mr. Hager or Mr. Earley to fall back on running for their current job again if either man isn't performing well in the early meetings.

Mr. Earley's campaign manager, Quintin Kendall, said they have yet to take a position on the matter but added that the timing probably doesn't make much difference either way the campaigns will try to have delegates committed to their candidates well before the meetings.

And that's the task for both men over the next few months to build an organization that can identify and turn out committed delegates. Both campaigns are fighting to win over the paid and volunteer staff from Victory 2000, the state Republican Party's effort on behalf of Senator-elect George F. Allen and the rest of the Republican slate.

A year ago, Mr. Earley's campaign was trying to prove it could raise the money to beat Mr. Warner, while Mr. Hager was trying to prove he had the conservative credentials to lead the party ticket. Both men say they have achieved those goals, with Mr. Hager touting a letter of support from three conservative Virginia leaders, including the national committee's Morton Blackwell, and Mr. Earley's camp pointing to what they say will be excellent year-end fund-raising statistics.

For now, both men tussle behind the scenes to attend more hand-grabbing sessions, be seen with more of the right people, or speak at more meetings than the other.

Mr. Warner, the Democrat waiting to take on either man at the end of the process, is in the enviable position of sitting out the fireworks, since he has no opposition for the Democratic nomination.

Steve Jarding, Mr. Warner's chief of staff, said their job right now is to keep working on fund raising and statewide organizing. As for public policy announcements, they will take their cue from how the Republican campaign plays out. If it is a dirty fight, they can stay out. But they also can choose to swoop in if the campaign turns to issues they believe are important to stake out a position on.

"We'll just kind of see what the interest is," Mr. Jarding said, adding that Mr. Warner will wait until the new year to make his candidacy official.

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