- The Washington Times - Monday, July 23, 2001

BOSTON Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III has come through with flying colors in the first full-scale test of his job as the Republican Party's national chairman, state party leaders said after their three-day meeting.
The party leaders and the White House expressed relief during the weekend, after concluding that Mr. Gilmore can juggle two big jobs, despite pressures from legislative battles in his own state and national policy issues that have the potential for dividing the party's electoral base.
"Gilmore has been palpably different at this meeting," said David Norcross, a New Jersey member of the Republican National Committee, after Friday's conclusion of the RNC's annual summer meeting in Boston. It was the first RNC meeting that Mr. Gilmore presided over since his friend George W. Bush was sworn in as president on Jan. 20.
"He's been far friendlier to everybody at this meeting," said Mr. Norcross, a former RNC general counsel. "He's reached out to folks. This meeting has been terrific, in terms of what we have done, the material we've been given, the discussions we have had."
Six months ago, under consideration by Mr. Bush for the top RNC post, Mr. Gilmore said that, no matter what, he would serve out his term as governor before turning full attention to the RNC next January in time for the 2002 gubernatorial and congressional elections. Mr. Bush agreed, and the 165-member RNC elected Mr. Gilmore to lead it.
Since then, RNC members party chairmen and elected leaders from the 50 states and five territories — privately grumbled that Mr. Gilmore was too distracted with Virginia affairs to pay sufficient attention to them and the needs for party-building and candidate recruitment in their states.
"The situation is that you've got Governor Gilmore finishing up his term as governor of Virginia, he's down in Richmond," said Ohio party chairman Robert T. Bennett. "He's put together a very strong team at the RNC to work with us. But it places enormous demands on his time, plus there's a gubernatorial election this year in Virginia."
"So I think this will be the toughest year that Governor Gilmore will go through as national chairman, but I think he'll survive it," said Mr. Bennett. "He's done an outstanding job in balancing all the duties and responsibilities of both jobs."
Unsure of what political distractions might arise in Virginia this year, Mr. Bush asked Mr. Gilmore to appoint Bush presidential campaign fund-raiser Jack Oliver as deputy RNC chairman. When Mr. Gilmore agreed, some experienced hands at the RNC privately concluded that an ugly power struggle was about to unfold.
But at the Boston meeting, there was no indication of such a struggle.
"Gilmore has been effusive in his praise of Oliver at this meeting, and I think you can say that whatever friction may have been there looks to be on the mend," a state party official and RNC member said privately.
Indeed, Mr. Gilmore and Mr. Oliver strolled the halls of the meeting hotel together, looking like men who had no differences or had patched up any they might have had.
Asked in an interview what he saw as his function in holding the somewhat unusual title of deputy chairman, Mr. Oliver said, "I do everything I can to support this great chairman [Mr. Gilmore] in the ideals he set forth for the RNC." In a separate interview, Mr. Gilmore described his working relationship with Mr. Oliver this way: "Jack Oliver is a great deputy chairman."
"I designated him for that role because I wanted him to have the ability and the tools to prove the leadership he is in fact providing," Mr. Gilmore said. "He's doing a terrific job in establishing our special programs on voter turnout, he's been a wonderful leader on issues within the Congress, he's a terrific right-hand man to me, he keeps me fully informed and he is exactly the kind of deputy chairman I want to have."
Another party official who operates at the intersection of White House and RNC power confided that, in his view, it will take another week or two before a firm assessment of the Gilmore-Oliver entente can be reached.
"The feeling here in Boston was that the Gilmore-Oliver situation may be correcting itself," another official said privately. "The question is whether the lovefest can be sustained at the office."
Meanwhile, the RNC continues to expand with Gilmore lieutenants. Boyd Marcus, the Virginia governor's chief of staff, will move to the RNC to head up policy and planning, probably as a consultant rather than as a staff member.
Some of the RNC political office and regional field representatives now in place came out of the Gilmore operation rather than the Bush campaign.
This is contrary to the initial expectations of some on Team Bush who had believed Mr. Gilmore's role would be confined largely to that of "front man" — the TV talking head and cheerleader for the Bush agenda and the president's 2004 re-election campaign.
But Mr. Gilmore negotiated his RNC role directly with Mr. Bush, whose presidential campaign in Virginia he headed, along with helping him in a number of other important states last year.
From the beginning of the Gilmore chairmanship in January, there has been hand-in-glove cooperation between the Bush operation and the RNC. Bush chief political strategist Karl Rove and White House Political Director Ken Mehlman attended the January RNC meeting that elected Mr. Gilmore as chairman.

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