- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 22, 2007

RICHMOND — Republicans elected John H. Hager, a former lieutenant governor who was in Democratic Gov. Mark Warner’s Cabinet, as the new state Republican Party chairman yesterday.

Mr. Hager, now an assistant education secretary in the Bush administration, completes the year left on Ed Gillespie’s term, who resigned as chairman to become White House counsel to Mr. Bush.

Mr. Hager, 70, narrowly defeated party executive director Charlie Judd on the second ballot, winning 41 votes to Mr. Judd’s 39 and one for Virginia Beach party chairman Chuck Smith. No candidate mustered the required first-ballot majority.

“We will move forward together, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s Mark Warner or [his successor, Gov.] Timothy M. Kaine or any other Democrat, we’re going to beat them all,” Mr. Hager told cheering members of the Republican Party’s ruling central committee after he was declared the winner.

Mr. Judd, a longtime party loyalist who worked for the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority from 1984 to 1988, will remain executive director, Mr. Hager said.

The balloting was civil despite weeks of intense behind-the-scenes deal-making and arm-twisting among committee members.

Mr. Hager, who lost a bitter nomination battle for governor to Mark L. Earley at the 2001 Republican state convention, told the committee before the vote he would reconcile the party’s quarreling factions.

“I’ve seen it in Washington, and I’m fed up. I want to see us move forward together. I remember that old song, ‘We Are Family,’ and I think we are a family, so we need to act like it,” Mr. Hager said.

Mr. Hager’s service from 2002 into 2004 in Mr. Warner’s Cabinet as the state’s first commonwealth preparedness director was a point Mr. Judd’s allies used to line up votes within the committee, several of its members said.

While Mr. Judd didn’t attack Mr. Hager on the issue yesterday, he made forceful references to the popular and wealthy former governor as a formidable foe the Republican Party must eventually battle.

“We must be unabashed in dealing with Mark Warner,” Mr. Judd said.

“My message simply is this: I want to say Mark Warner: buckle up, the free ride is over,” he said.

Mr. Warner defeated Mr. Earley in 2001, ending a string of Democratic losses through the 1990s, which by 2000 left every statewide elected office, both houses of the General Assembly, both U.S. Senate seats and a majority of the state’s 11 U.S. House seats in Republican hands.

Mr. Warner’s election is credited in part to moderate Republicans who backed Mr. Hager in voting for the centrist Mr. Warner over Mr. Earley in the fall.

Mr. Hager left Mr. Warner’s administration in April 2004 as a legislative battle over tax restructuring and recovering from $6 billion in budget shortfalls came to a head. At the time, Mr. Hager said he promised Mr. Warner only two years and that his departure was only to pursue other options, which he did not define. He went to work for the federal Department of Education seven months later.

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