- The Washington Times - Monday, December 10, 2001

Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III once a rising presence in the national Republican Party has seen his star dim in recent weeks but still has a bright political future, observers say.
One political analyst, Scott Keeter, said Mr. Gilmore could be a serious candidate for another run for Virginia governor in 2005 or for the U.S. Senate, if either Sen. John W. Warner or Sen. George Allen steps down.
"He's obviously made a lot of enemies during his term as governor," said Mr. Keeter, chairman of the Department of Public and International Affairs at George Mason University. "But the rank-and-file public hasn't abandoned him. With that, I think he'll get a serious look as a candidate."
Mr. Gilmore's last two months of his governorship have not been his best. Shortly after the elections, he announced that because of an estimated $1.2 billion revenue shortfall this year, he would have to delay the full phaseout of the car-tax cut, a campaign promise that carried him into office four years ago. He blamed much of the shortfall on the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Then last week, he abruptly stepped down as chairman of the Republican National Committee, within a month of the party's losses in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races. Mr. Gilmore said he was stepping down for family reasons; his critics argued he was forced out by White House political advisers.
Political leaders agreed this week the Republican governor most likely would not win re-election if he were allowed to run for a second four-year term. Virginia is the only state that bars governors from seeking re-election.
Lawmakers were quick to add that Mr. Gilmore's political future if he wants one is not over, because they believe he still has the support of Virginia residents.
"To write Mr. Gilmore's obituary as a politician is really premature, preposterous even," said state Delegate Jay O'Brien, Fairfax Republican. "He's young, he's been a successful governor, and he's leaving with high marks. Is he finished politically? Absolutely not."
State Delegate Brian J. Moran, Alexandria Democrat, said Mr. Gilmore's future political success will depend on how the budget problems are handled during the upcoming General Assembly when Mr. Gilmore leaves office.
Mr. Gilmore's last duty as governor is to put together a $50 billion biennial budget that will attempt to resolve this year's estimated $1.2 billion revenue shortfall.
"But four years is an eternity in politics," Mr. Moran said. "A lot can happen before then. But the structure of state government gives the governor so much strength that it undoubtedly enables the governor to run for re-election down the road."
Other Democrats, however, said Mr. Gilmore doesn't stand a chance of winning any political office in Virginia, mostly because of last winter's budget impasse and the current revenue shortfall.
"The proverbial fat lady has sung," said Alan Moore, executive director of the Democratic Party of Virginia.
"Governor Gilmore drove the train that wrecked the state budget," Mr. Moore said. "He was more concerned with his personal political agenda than with the welfare of the commonwealth, and that led to the historical budget impasse in Virginia. Virginians won't forget that."
Maybe, maybe not.
A voter survey poll taken in early November before the elections put Mr. Gilmore's job-approval rating at 62 percent. But that poll was taken several weeks before Mr. Gilmore announced he was delaying the full phaseout of the car-tax cut and the status of the state's declining economy.
Internal polls show that 68 percent of voters say he has done an excellent or good job, Mr. Gilmore's office reported last week. As of yesterday, no public poll on Mr. Gilmore's job approval had been taken.
If Mr. Gilmore decides to run for governor again, observers say, his toughest battlefield will be Northern Virginia, where lawmakers and their constituents feel his administration hasn't paid enough attention to solve the traffic problems and school overcrowding.
One of the things on which Northern Virginia legislators and Mr. Gilmore didn't see eye-to-eye is the 1 percent sales-tax referendum, from which proceeds would go toward schools and transportation. Northern Virginia lawmakers supported a sales-tax referendum, whereas Mr. Gilmore threatened to veto such a bill.
It is Mr. Gilmore's so-called "my way or the highway" and the "take no prisoners" approach that could derail his chances on a nomination down the road, lawmakers and analysts say.
"This entire region pretty much felt that Mr. Gilmore was not here enough and that he was not sensitive to us," Mr. O'Brien said. "That's a hard thing to shake. His reluctance on the sales-tax referendum would probably be the biggest obstacle he would have to overcome."
However, Mr. Gilmore's supporters said it would be the governor's record and his strong ties to his party that would help him get a shot at another run for office.
It was under his tenure as governor that Republicans had taken over control of the state House of Delegates. In last month's elections, Republicans won 64 seats in the House, compared with the Democrats' 34. Two seats were won by independents.
Mr. Gilmore also pushed the car-tax cut while the state could afford the rebate and increased spending on education, his supporters say.
"He has been very steady," said Dick Leggitt, Mr. Gilmore's political adviser.
"He has kept his word to the people. He even forecast economic problems we're beginning to see now. He's got a shot," Mr. Leggitt said. "But the real question is, does he want to continue in politics?"

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