- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 1, 2008

RICHMOND - Former Gov. James S. Gilmore III won a divisive contest for the state Republican Party’s nomination to the U.S. Senate yesterday, winning by 65 votes to set up a showdown with former Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat he derided as a tax-prone “limousine liberal.”

“Don’t be worried about the fact that every now and then we get ourselves into a contentious convention,” Mr. Gilmore told attendees at the 2008 Virginia Republican Convention. “We will win this Senate seat and beat Mark Warner in November.”

The more moderate Mr. Gilmore defeated ardent social conservative Delegate Robert G. Marshall of Prince William County 5,222 to 5,157 - a minuscule margin that some said could indicate he will have difficulty defeating the wealthy and popular Mr. Warner.

Meanwhile, state party Chairman John H. Hager conceded an election for his post to Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick, who like Mr. Marshall is a strong social conservative and a Prince William County lawmaker. Mr. Hager’s procedural motion to elect Mr. Frederick followed a bitter fight for the state party’s top leadership spot.

Mr. Marshall raised about $78,500 for the Senate race, compared to Mr. Gilmore’s roughly $1 million. He noted in his concession speech that he “was outspent 14 to 1” and did not announce his candidacy until January.

“I still came within [70] votes,” he said.

Mr. Gilmore yesterday called the vote totals “a surprise,” but emphasized that his campaign had not spent heavily on the convention in deference to the November election.

He also said the margin “showed Bob Marshall brought a lot of new people into the party.” Mr. Marshall attracted votes by attacking Mr. Gilmore’s stances on issues like abortion, illegal immigration and transportation spending.

“We believe [Marshall supporters] are going to be supporting us,” Mr. Gilmore said. “They have nothing in common with any position Mark Warner has ever taken.”

Mr. Gilmore likely faces an uphill fight against Mr. Warner in a race that will coincide with the presidential election and help determine whether Virginia turns a shade bluer and continues to bleed Republican red in presidential races.

In his acceptance speech, he said he will try to reach independents and disenchanted Democrats. He also said he hopes to make inroads into Northern Virginia.

“People who say that you can’t win in Northern Virginia are just flat wrong,” he said. “If we stand for something, we will carry Northern Virginia.”

Mr. Gilmore also attacked Mr. Warner for not supporting tax cuts made by the Bush administration. He repeated his call to reduce gas prices by increasing domestic oil production and attempted to tie himself to Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and the party’s presumptive presidential nominee.

“Barack Obama and Mark Warner are out of touch,” Mr. Gilmore said. “And I can tell you now, McCain-Gilmore will defeat Obama-Mark Warner in November.”

Kevin Hall, Mr. Warner’s campaign spokesman, said that the division at the Republican convention was not a surprise.

“When Jim Gilmore was governor, he showed he could not work with a legislature controlled by his own party on important issues like the budget, so it’s not surprising that members of his own party do not want to work with Jim Gilmore now,” Mr. Hall said. “That’s also why we’re seeing unprecedented Republican and independent support for Governor Warner’s honest and responsible record of leadership.”

Mr. Marshall did not endorse Mr. Gilmore in his concession speech, but urged Republicans to be united behind “a real pro-life principle.” The delegate, who has said he believes life begins at conception, had attacked Mr. Gilmore for his stance that abortions within the first eight weeks of a woman’s pregnancy should be legal.

Mr. Gilmore said he would not change his position after winning the nomination to attract more voters. “I’m not going to ever change my belief structure based on political opportunity,” he said.

The election for state party chairman was apparently won handily by the conservative faction.

The more moderate Mr. Hager, whose son married President Bush’s daughter Jenna last month, reportedly trailed by a wide margin in the vote count, and came on stage to motion that Mr. Frederick be elected by acclamation.

Mr. Frederick thanked Mr. Hager and later said he intends to begin immediately working to mobilize the party at the grass-roots level.

“We’ve got to rebuild, and we’ve got to do it fast,” Mr. Frederick said. “We don’t have a second to waste, because the stakes are too high.”

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