- The Washington Times - Friday, August 27, 2004

The first woman to head the Republican Party of Virginia is leading her first delegation to a national convention next week.

Kate Obenshain Griffin said she will bring a fresh perspective and an open mind to the Republican National Convention, a political event she will attend for the first time.

“I’m looking forward to that atmosphere of enthusiasm,” Mrs. Griffin told The Washington Times. “Republicans all over Virginia are energized about the presidential campaign. … It’s a time of fellowship.”

Mrs. Griffin said she loves the notion of conventions, both at the national and state levels. “It’s a great way to invigorate the party,” she said. “It’s grass roots and gives us our marching orders and gets us focused.”

Mrs. Griffin, 35, has been working in New York City this week to help develop a national platform for the party, to which her family has been devoted for generations.

Her father, Richard D. Obenshain, was chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia from 1972 to 1974 and ran several unsuccessful races for Congress and state attorney general. He won his party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate in June 1978, but two months later he died in an airplane crash at the age of 42.

After Mr. Obenshain’s death, former Secretary of the Navy John W. Warner took on the nomination, and he is serving his fifth term as senator.

Mrs. Griffin credits her father with realigning the state’s Republican Party, by encouraging moderate Democrats to switch parties and building up Republican numbers.

“To call us the minority at the time was an exaggeration — theparty was nonexistent,” she said.

In 1972, there were 24 Republicans in the 100-member House and six in the 40-member state Senate, according to the Library of Virginia. Today, Republicans control both chambers and the Attorney General’s Office. The state had two Republican governors in the 1990s.

Mrs. Griffin’s mother, Helen Obenshain Newton, also has been involved in politics and served as the Republican National Committee Woman for Virginia. Mrs. Griffin’s older brother, Mark Obenshain, serves in the state Senate, and her great-grandfather was the first Republican sheriff in Botetourt County, she said.

Mrs. Griffin, who lives in Winchester, has four children with her husband, lawyer Phil Griffin, who is the former chairman of the local Winchester Republican Committee. Their oldest child is 7; the youngest is 18 months.

The Griffins also are active in their community. They co-founded James 1:27 Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to widows and orphans in times of crisis.

It has been a rough road for the state’s Republicans since 2002, when the party was shaken up by two scandals that led to resignations of several top party officials.

Mrs. Griffin took the helm of the state’s Republican Party last summer when party Chairman Gary R. Thomson stepped down after he and several other top Republicans were implicated in a political eavesdropping case involving a Democratic conference call.

Both Mr. Thomson and Edmund A. Matricardi III, who served as executive director of Republican Party of Virginia, were convicted in the case.

In June 2002, House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr. resigned after acknowledging that he paid a 26-year-old woman $100,000 to settle a sexual-harassment case against him.

Earlier this year, a group of maverick Republicans defied the party leadership’s firm anti-tax stance and sided with Democrats to pass a $1.38 billion tax-reform plan, which was the largest tax increase in the state’s history.

But Mrs. Griffin said Virginia Republicans are more united than ever in wanting to re-elect President Bush and that the tax battles are history.

Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, who asked Mrs. Griffin to lead the party, praised her work.

“Kate is the most dynamic leader we’ve had in some time in Virginia,” Mr. Kilgore said. “She brings not only a solid background in Virginia politics but a sound background in principle. She’s the right leader for our party at this time.”

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