- - Friday, April 18, 2014

Life in a battleground state, where elections are usually won or lost, grows difficult when the candidates see November in the distance. There’s no escaping the barrage of television and radio ads. When the telephone rings, usually during supper, it might be a lawyer calling to say that Aunt Tillie died and left $1 million. But it’s more likely to be a robocall or push poll to sway voters.

Sometimes the silly season arrives early, like this year.

Sen. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, feels heat already from his Republican challenger in Virginia, and he’s playing the October desperation card in April. The challenger is Ed Gillespie, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee. His surprising strength is derived from his ability to unify the party, fractured by skirmishing between the establishment and Tea Party wings.

To take out this threat, Mr. Warner is trying to paint Mr. Gillespie as a raging liberal.

Mr. Warner is running short on boasts. He dare not boast of his vote for Obamacare, as unpopular in Virginia as everywhere else, so his surrogates have set up a website called “Gillespiecare” with misleading quotations meant to give the impression that Obamacare was Mr. Gillespie’s idea. Mr. Gillespie is quoted from a television interview three years ago: “Yeah, I would make a private-sector exchange. You could have a state option, but there should be more freedom for people to choose.”

The word “exchange” conjures the dreaded Obamacare, but elsewhere in the interview, conveniently omitted, Mr. Gillespie makes the point that the employer tax deduction for health insurance should be given to employees, not to companies, enabling them to buy their own insurance, as they do with car insurance. He was clear that the insurance pools should not be run by the government, but be more like credit unions.

“Maybe it’s your alumni association,” he said, “maybe it’s your professional association. You should be able to risk-pool across state lines.” That’s the free-market approach.

Mr. Warner’s surrogates note that Mr. Gillespie’s former lobbying firm, Quinn Gillespie Associates, had the Coalition To Advance Healthcare Reform as a client, which was promoting the individual mandate. But Steve Burd, the director of the coalition, says Mr. Gillespie left his firm a month after the coalition was formed. “As I recall,” says Mr. Burd, “[Mr. Gillespie] was personally opposed to the idea of an individual mandate, and encouraged the coalition to stay with market-based principles to guide its work.”

Mr. Warner could more usefully spend his time coming up with a good reason why Virginia should re-elect a senator who voted for Obamacare and promised Virginians they could keep the health care they had if they liked it.

We must expect more silliness ahead. It’s still a long way to November.