- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 31, 2008

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A sharply split Virginia Republican Convention nominated former Gov. Jim Gilmore to run for the seat of retiring Republican Senator John Warner.

Mr. Gilmore won 50.3 percent of the delegate votes today over conservative Bob Marshall, the Virginia General Assembly’s most ardent foe of abortion and gay marriage.

The slim margin - about 65 votes, less than a percentage point - leaves Mr. Gilmore to face popular, well-funded Democrat Mark Warner in the fall election in a state where the GOP lost the past two gubernatorial races and the 2006 Senate election.

Mr. Gilmore assailed Mr. Warner in his speech as a tax-prone “limousine liberal” who will say anything to get elected. He ignored Mr. Marshall in his remarks to the approximately 3,500 delegates.

“He will go to the Senate and vote with the liberal Democrats who are out of touch with the nation,” Mr. Gilmore said. “Mark Warner doesn’t care what you have to pay for a tank of gas.”

As he spoke, a team of his aides wearing blue and orange baseball caps worked the convention floor, making sure his delegates cast their votes.

Mr. Marshall’s loud, sign-waving supporters, many of them church-based social conservatives new to the intricacies of party maneuvering, packed the convention.

“Go, Bob, go,” they chanted through his remarks, the roar drowning out Mr. Gilmore’s supporters.

In conceding defeat, Mr. Marshall noted that he had only $78,000 to spend compared to nearly $1 million Mr. Gilmore raised. “And I still came within 80 votes.”

Mr. Marshall joined Mr. Gilmore briefly onstage and called for a GOP victory over Mr. Warner, but never endorsed Mr. Gilmore or mentioned his name.

“Not bad for a gadfly, huh,” Mr. Marshall quipped as he left the convention hall, carrying dozens of Marshall yard signs and posters.

Mr. Marshall said in an interview he would “work to defeat Mark Warner,” but was still seething over brochures Mr. Gilmore’s campaign had mailed last week that called him “dishonest on bonds and spending.”

“If I can do this much and get this close, and get outspent 14 to 1, how does he attract back all these people in the fall?” Marshall said.

Even in victory, Mr. Gilmore’s supporters expressed doubts about his chances against Mr. Warner, who was elected to succeed Mr. Gilmore as governor largely by blaming Mr. Gilmore for a state budget crisis.

“Anybody against Warner, I have my doubts. I wish I didn’t think that and I hope I’m proven wrong,” said Gilmore delegate Cathy Liggins of Gloucester.

Marshall delegates Damien and Christina Dodge of Virginia Beach said they would vote for Mr.Gilmore this fall, “but I don’t know that we will run around doing stuff for him.”

Sensing the division and doubts after the sometimes raucous contest, Mr. Gilmore addressed them in his speech. He said his supporters can’t afford to be intimidated by Mr. Warner’s strong showing in statewide polls, his reputation as a moderate, the nearly $8 million he has raised or his strong base of support in the state’s most populous region, northern Virginia.

“The Mark Warner you see on that TV ad is not the Mark Warner you will see in the United States Senate,” Mr. Gilmore said.

“We’re going to broaden this party, and people who say that you can’t win in northern Virginia are just flat wrong. We can win in northern Virginia and we will,” he said.

In remarks to reporters, Mr. Gilmore attributed the thin margin to paying too little attention to turning out his delegates. “We were focusing on Mark Warner,” he said.

Mr. Warner’s campaign, however, was quick to exploit the close division.

“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,” said Warner campaign spokesman Kevin Hall.

Mr. Warner today also e-mailed supporters a preview of a one-minute television ad that will debut statewide on Monday that features former Republican state Sen. John Chichester praising Mr. Warner for fixing a $6 billion budget shortfall rooted in Mr. Gilmore’s administration.

While Mr. Gilmore’s fiscal stewardship of the state’s money is a clear focus for Democrats, gasoline prices emerged as the dominant new issue for the GOP during the convention. With gasoline prices soaring beyond $4 a gallon, Mr. Gilmore sees voter anger similar to the resentment over the property tax, the issue that got him elected governor in 1997.

“This is going to be the car tax of 2008,” Gilmore adviser Dick Leggitt said of the campaign’s strategy to attack Democrats for opposing oil drilling in an Alaskan wilderness and off the U.S. coast.

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Associated Press writer Dena Potter contributed to this report.

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