- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2001

Virginia Attorney General Mark L. Earley won his partys gubernatorial nomination over the weekend, but the 46-year-old Republican doesnt have much time to savor the victory — not when the presumed Democratic nominee, Mark R. Warner, is out in front in fund raising and name recognition.
Mr. Warner, 46, will officially gain his partys nomination in a June 12 primary, in which he is unopposed. But he has been running television advertisements for almost a month and has been crisscrossing the state for much of this year, meeting voters and touting his businessmans approach to governing.
Yesterday, Mr. Warners campaign announced that in April and May he raised almost $1.3 million, bringing his total to $6.7 million from more than 9,200 individual donors. Mr. Warner spent almost $1.7 million in those two months — most of it on the television commericials.
Mr. Earley gained the Republican nomination Saturday, easily defeating Lt. Gov. John H. Hager after what had been at times a bruising fight. He comes out of the convention without debt, but without much money either. And, according to a Republican Party opinion poll from April, he trails Mr. Warner in name recognition and support.
But Republicans hope that will change soon.
"I think the name ID and the bounce that you get out of a convention, like were getting today, helps," said David B. Botkins, Mr. Earleys campaign spokesman. "The 'earned media you get off a convention is huge. You supplement that with the Web site outreach, targeted radio. Now Mark, since hes stepping down, will be able to campaign full-time, which he has not been able to do for 3 and 1/2 years. Youre going to see a significant change in the dynamics of this race."
Republicans point out that the last two governors both trailed substantially in the early summer months of their campaigns, and went on to strong victories — Gov. George F. Allen on the strength of his pledge to abolish parole, and Gov. James S. Gilmore III on the strength of the "No car tax" slogan.
Mr. Earley, though he read a list of positions and initiatives in his acceptance speech at the convention Saturday, has no defining issue presently. Asked later at a news conference if he sees one of those issues rising to the top, he responded, "I dont know, which one of them did you like the best?"
Mr. Earleys nomination may change things for the Republican strategy, but it doesnt change much for Mr. Warners strategy.
"Marks been crisscrossing the commonwealth for months now, and hes going to keep doing it, laying out his positive message," said spokesman Mo Elleithee.
So far that has meant a plan for higher education, including need-based aid for good students and a $250 million a year building package, and a plan to give more attention to vocational education.
The Virginia governors race is one of two this year — the other is New Jerseys — and promises to be very expensive.
The early campaign strategy for both camps is apparent: Define the other candidate as a waffler who cant be pinned down on the issues. Both Mr. Earley and Mr. Warner have committed to a debate in July at a Virginia Bar Association meeting.
Mr. Warner is an Alexandria businessman whose wealth is estimated at between $200 million and $250 million. Ever since he lost the 1996 Senate race to John W. Warner — the two arent related — he has been laying the groundwork for a governors race.
He has started private programs to help the uninsured and to help Virginians become Internet-literate. He has also started several venture capital firms around the state, which has given him a reason to travel and meet folks without looking like he was just pandering for votes.
Mr. Earley is a longtime member of the National Associaton for the Advancement of Colored People who has made labor issues, protecting consumers, ending drinking on college campuses and preventing gang violence hallmarks of his career as attorney general — a position he will resign today. In his 10 years in the state Senate before that, he was a staunch opponent of abortion.
"The biggest strength that this campaign has is the candidate, and we now have a full-time, engaged, aggressive candidate for governor in Mark Earley, and hes going to take his message to every town and every county in Virginia," Mr. Botkins said. "And when people have the opportunity to take the measure of the two men, Mark Earley is going to come out on top."
He might also have added the state Republican Party as a strength — a party that boasts Gov. James S. Gilmore III, who is also chairman of the Republican National Committee, and which holds every statewide elected office, controls both houses of the General Assembly and in the last two years has reversed Democrats 6-5 lead in the congressional delegation to 6-3 with one independent and one open seat, which will be filled in a special election June 19.
But the party may also be a liability this year, after Republicans feuded during the General Assembly session over how to amend the states two-year budget. In the end, the car-tax cut remained on schedule, but many funded cultural attractions will be without state funds come July 1, and there is no money for pay raises for public employees.


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