- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES Former Lt. Gov. John H. Hager and Charles E. “Charlie” Judd, executive director of the Virginia Republican Party, have emerged as front-runners to replace Ed Gillespie, the group’s chairman who took a job last week at the White House.

Four of the 11 executive committee members on the State Central Committee have given their support to Mr. Judd, whom Mr. Gillespie pulled out of retirement to work for the party.

“It is imperative we continue our current successes going forward and create as little disruption … as possible,” said a joint statement by the four committee members: Russ Moulton, 1st Congressional District chairman, Mike Wade, 3rd Congressional District chairman, Fred Anderson, 6th Congressional District chairman, and Linwood Cobb, 7th Congressional District chairman. “We believe the best way to do this is to ask Charlie Judd to serve as both party chair and executive director.”

That idea does not sit well with James Rich, 10th Congressional District chairman, and Wayne “Bubba” Ozmore, 4th Congressional District chairman.

“A lot of us are opposed to one person holding two positions,” Mr. Rich said. “That to me does not make a lot of sense.”

He said Mr. Hager, who served as lieutenant governor from 1998 to 2002, would be a better choice.

“It seems that a lot of peopleare enthusiastic about John because he is such a good leader who knows everyone in the commonwealth and was elected,” Mr. Rich said. Mr. Judd “is an awfully nice guy but he doesn’t have the star power of John Hager.”

However, some state Republicans do not support Mr. Hager because he was the director of Virginia’s homeland security under the administration of Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat.

Chuck Smith, chairman of Virginia Beach’s Republican Party, also is seeking the nomination.

The State Central Committee is expected to make a final decision next month.

Mr. Gillespie’s acceptance of the chairmanship in December appeared to energize the state party after Sen. George Allen’s loss in the midterm election last year.

Mr. Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman, used his connections to help offset Democrats’ growing campaign coffers, including attracting President Bush and other national Republican stars for fundraisers.

He also helped guide successful transportation talks in Richmond that were once stalled by differences between anti-tax conservatives and centrist Republicans.

Mr. Gillespie resigned after a bitter primary elections in which anti-tax challengers upset two incumbent Republican state senators who had sided with Democrats in 2004 to enact a $1.38 billion tax increase.

Republicans now say the decision on who will become the next chairman will be made at a crucial time.

“We have all 140 seats of the House and Senate up this fall,” said Jerry W. Kilgore, Republican former attorney general. “We have an important presidential primary coming up, not to mention the fall election in 2008” for the U.S. Senate seat held by John W. Warner.

Mr. Warner is expected to announce in September whether he will seek re-election.

In the coming election, Democrats need to win four seats to control the state Senate.

Republican insiders say as many as five executive committee members support Mr. Judd, four back Mr. Hager and two are undecided.

Their positions give a good indication of how the State Central Committee’s 81 members will vote.

Tucker C. Watkins, 5th Congressional District Committee chairman, said he is undecided because better candidates might emerge.

“I think it is a wide-open race at this point,” he said. “I like John Hager, but I don’t think right now you have all the names on the table.”

Still, Republicans say the party needs to continue where Mr. Gillespie left off, pushing to re-energize their grass-roots operations and fundraising efforts.

“The question is: Who is the best person to do that?” Mr. Watkins said.

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