- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 24, 2006

James S. Gilmore III, the former Republican governor of Virginia who is a hero to anti-tax conservatives, will form a committee next month to assess his prospects for a campaign for president in 2008.

Mr. Gilmore, 57, as secretive about his plans now as he was when he was a prosecutor, first for Henrico County and then as state attorney general, declines to say who will head his exploratory committee, or whether that person has experience running a 50-state campaign.

Mr. Gilmore said in an interview that he has visited the key primary and caucus states and has put staff “on the ground” in some of them. He would not say who or where.

A Republican official in the early primary state of South Carolina says Mr. Gilmore “began making noise down here when George Allen [the retiring senator from Virginia] began bleeding heavily. My guess is he saw ‘the conservative Southern candidate’ dropping out and that he could fill that role.” Mike Huckabee, the retiring Republican governor of Arkansas, is examining his prospects as such a regional favorite son already.

“There is a huge conservative void in the race for the Republican nomination for president right now and Jim Gilmore is down the line, 100 percent correct on all the issues that matter to conservatives,” says one eager Virginian, who asks to remain anonymous because he wants work in the campaign of whoever is the eventual Republican nominee.

If Mr. Gilmore enters the race, the next big question will be whether he can raise the $100 million that Federal Election Commission Chairman Michael Toner says serious contenders will have by the end of next year.

“Gilmore had a strong and established fundraising base when he was in the governor’s mansion in Richmond. This element, combined with his strength among grass-roots conservatives, could enable Governor Gilmore to emerge as a top-tier candidate.”

Mr. Gilmore served briefly as Republican National Committee chairman before losing a battle with White House chief political strategist Karl Rove over who would actually run the national committee.

The South Carolina official says Mr. Gilmore may have competition from another former governor who is warmly regarded by conservatives.

“I don’t see a lot of excitement around the Gilmore effort so far,” he says, adding that he met former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating at lunch for the first time on Wednesday. “Keating says he’s thinking about running. Looks like he’ll draw heavily from his days [as an FBI agent] during the Reagan administration. Ed Rollins [the 1984 Reagan re-election campaign manager] will help him if he runs.”

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