Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a tax-cutting, pro-life Republican who has won support from black voters in his state, is about to be named national party chairman, Republicans close to President-elect George W. Bush said yesterday.
Mr. Gilmore will succeed outgoing Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson, who has raised record sums for the party in his two consecutive two-year terms as the party’s elected national chairman.
Mr. Gilmore, 51, is a favorite of many conservatives around the country for any major post in the incoming Bush administration.
“Gilmore was my first choice for the vice president, my first choice for attorney general, and all conservatives are ecstatic at the prospect of having him lead the party,” said Grover G. Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. “Unlike other governors, he spent a lot of time building the Republican Party in his state and recognizes the importance of being a party builder.”
But Mr. Gilmore has been reluctant to fuel speculation and has made it known that he wants to complete his term as governor. As a result, a Cabinet post would be impossible, and Mr. Gilmore has even been noncommittal on taking the reins at the RNC.
“If properly structured, I believe that it could be [done],” Mr. Gilmore told The Washington Times in an interview at the Virginia Capitol yesterday. “We’ll see what the president-elect says.”
The 165-member RNC is prepared at its annual winter meeting next month to elect Mr. Gilmore as its chairman and to waive, by simple majority vote, a committee rule that requires its chairman to be a full-time, paid employee of the RNC.
“Most of the national committee is waiting for directions from President-elect Bush,” said Indiana party Chairman Mike McDaniel, a conservative and an RNC member. “We’re prepared to waive the rules.”
That will allow Mr. Gilmore to serve out his term as governor, which expires in January 2002, and at the same time to be the party’s national chairman. He is expected to resign, however, as chairman of the Republican Governors Association and to be succeeded by its vice chairman, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.
“I haven’t received any official word that he’s the one, but Gilmore has tremendous ideas, is a good coalition-builder, a successful money raiser and would make an excellent spokesman and that spokesman’s role has become more and more important,” Mr. McDaniel said.
Bush chief campaign strategist Karl Rove, whom some Republicans had thought would head the RNC, is expected to join the Bush White House next month as a senior adviser. Some Republicans close to the president-elect said he preferred to have Mr. Rove close by him in the White House.
Friends want to see Mr. Nicholson, a devout Catholic, named ambassador to the Vatican or secretary of the Army he is a decorated Vietnam War veteran and Army Ranger. But these same friends also say he has several attractive offers from the private sector.
Praise for Mr. Gilmore came from all parts of the Republican spectrum.
Virginia Sen. John W. Warner, though not held in high esteem by many conservatives, nonetheless said Mr. Gilmore’s selection would be “a tribute to the tremendous success Virginia Republicans have achieved under his leadership.”
Ron Kaufman, an RNC member from Massachusetts, said: “Most important, from a party perspective, he built the party in Virginia brick by brick, precinct by precinct, into a majority. He’s a prolific fund-raiser, a great talking head on television and exactly the kind of guy we need going into the 2002 elections.”
Former RNC general counsel David Norcross said what struck him most about Mr. Gilmore is “his great track record with black voters in Virginia.”
“If we can make inroads in that part of the Democrat coalition, it would be immeasurably valuable to us,” he added. “I was beginning to give up hope and I’m delighted we’ll have someone who is going to keep my hope alive.”
Mr. Gilmore brought black Virginians into his administration and appointed two to his Cabinet.
There had been internal debate over whether Mr. Gilmore would be named the unpaid general chairman while someone else served as the elected chairman of the national party.
But that would have meant that Mr. Gilmore would serve mainly as a figurehead spokesman and not have the power to hire and fire RNC staff and to build the committee into an effective fund-raising and strategic-planning weapon for the Republicans going into the 2002 elections.
“Also, the Democrats’ split leadership, with Ed Rendell as the general chairman of the Democratic National Committee and Joe Andrew as the DNC elected chairman, showed that arrangement could be fraught with problems,” a senior Republican official said.
For example, after the U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Florida recount battle went against Vice President Al Gore, Mr. Rendell promptly said Mr. Gore should throw in the towel. Mr. Andrew hotly disputed Mr. Rendell and said the former Philadelphia mayor was not speaking for the Democratic Party.
Mr. Gilmore’s political skills have won admiration from Republicans and conservatives around the county. He used those skills to help Republicans win a majority in both houses of the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.
Mr. Bush campaigned for Mr. Gilmore in 1997, and Mr. Gilmore returned the favor last year by becoming the first Republican governor to endorse Mr. Bush’s run for president.
He also put the full force of his state political operation behind the Texas governor in the Virginia presidential primary when Arizona Sen. John McCain was using his war-hero status to appeal to military personnel in Virginia.
A former state attorney general who, like Mr. Bush, supports capital punishment, he won election in 1997 on a pledge to eliminate the personal property tax on automobiles.
He has been a technology leader in Virginia, appointing its first secretary of technology and heading a commission that recommended extending the temporary ban on Internet sales taxes a position opposed by some fellow governors, who feared tax revenue losses in their own states.
“Some governors think if they get themselves elected, they’ve done the party a big favor,” Mr. Norquist said. “Gilmore got control of the state legislature for Republicans and has been a national leader on abolishing the car tax and not taxing Internet sales.”
Stephen Dinan and Daniel F. Drummond contributed to this report.