- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

RICHMOND Sometime around 3 a.m. on Nov. 7, the telephone rang in the dark, empty office of Edmund A. Matricardi III at Virginia state Republican Party headquarters. His answering machine recorded the message.
On the other end of the line were Democratic partisans in a hotel room three blocks away who, on cue, let loose with a boozy, singsong taunt to Mr. Matricardi, rubbing in the fact that Democrat Mark R. Warner hours earlier had won the election for governor.
Mr. Matricardi, the state Republican Party executive director, said he listens to that tape most every day, feeding his abiding disdain for Democrats. "It keeps me going whenever I feel like I don't need to work so hard," Mr. Matricardi, who routinely puts in workdays of between 12 and 16 hours, said in an interview earlier this year.
State Police investigators who searched his office for evidence last week wanted to know whether Mr. Matricardi took his zeal too far and illegally eavesdropped on a Democratic Party telephone strategy session.
Investigators were focusing on whether Mr. Matricardi gained access to the March 22 conference call surreptitiously, or whether he was effectively "invited" in by a legitimate participant who provided him with the telephone number and access code.
Authorities hope to reach a conclusion sometime this week.
Republicans rushing to Mr. Matricardi's defense over the weekend say a disaffected Democrat freely provided the information, a circumstance that would make it legal for Mr. Matricardi to monitor the call that involved about 30 Democrats, including senior lawmakers and Mr. Warner.
Democrats said the incident smacked of Watergate and demanded Mr. Matricardi's immediate firing.
On the advice of his attorney, Mr. Matricardi is not speaking publicly.
Mr. Matricardi is a driven partisan and proud of it. He has little patience for Republicans who flirt with the enemy.
Mr. Warner came to power pledging to find common cause with the legislature's Republican rulers, and he appointed former Lt. Gov. John Hager and former state Sen. Jane Woods, both Republicans, to his Cabinet. Mr. Matricardi played nice.
After House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins, Senate President Pro Tempore John H. Chichester and other senior Republicans joined Mr. Warner on Jan. 22 in a show of solidarity in building a state budget with revenues $3.8 billion short of projections, Mr. Matricardi shook his head.
"This is sad. I'm the last partisan left," he said.
Mr. Matricardi, 33, knew Republican politics was for him from an early age. He gleefully recalled how a homeowner went into a tirade when, as a child, he left campaign literature on a neighborhood doorstep as he canvassed for a Republican candidate.
"I thought to myself, 'This is so cool. I get to make grown-ups mad and not get in trouble for it,'" he said with a laugh during an interview in 2000.
Mr. Matricardi remained in politics even after he obtained his law degree, working on James S. Gilmore III's successful 1997 campaign for governor and serving in his administration after that. In 1999, with Mr. Gilmore's backing, he was appointed state Republican Party director.
Since then, the Republicans won their first majority ever in the House of Delegates, and former Republican Gov. George Allen handily unseated Democratic U.S. Sen. Charles S. Robb, another former governor who had led a Democratic Party renaissance in the 1980s.
Mr. Matricardi also showed he could play rough. In June, Mr. Matricardi showed a reporter 30 white three-ring binders, each about 3 inches thick and packed with opposition research into Mr. Warner.
"I live for this stuff," he said at the time. "People say this is negative, but as long as you're talking about his positions and his record, I think that's fair. It's not like we're going around talking to old college girlfriends and things like that," he said.
Some of that research yielded a brochure produced and paid for by the state Republican Party that labeled the Democratic ticket Mr. Warner headed as "the most liberal in Virginia history" and suggested that the ticket supported marriages for homosexual couples.
Democrats rebutted the claim and denounced the ad, as did Ann Earley, the mother of Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark L. Earley.
Last year, before the annual political Labor Day parade and picnic in Buena Vista, Mr. Matricardi spent a sleepless night putting thousands of Republican candidates' yard signs along the parade route, then guarding them through the night from rival Democrats.
Even so, Mr. Matricardi's affability has won him friends in both parties.
"Ed is a good partisan," Mo Elleithee said in a telephone interview on Saturday. He was press spokesman for Mr. Warner last year and Mr. Robb in 2000 before being hired in December to manage Janet Reno's campaign for governor in Florida.
"With him, you're either with him or against him. He and I have gone toe-to-toe and we disagree on everything political, but personally I've always found him a very likable and fun guy," Mr. Elleithee said.
Mr. Matricardi approaches every day as a political battle, Mr. Elleithee said. "I think in a lot of cases, that serves his party well, but I also think from time to time, on both sides of the aisle, you can go too far," he said.

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