- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 3, 2006

HOT SPRINGS, Va — Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman, was selected yesterday as the new chairman of the state party, a move members hope will re-energize their grass-roots operations and fundraising efforts.

Mr. Gillespie, son of Irish immigrants, said the state party was at a “critical juncture,” given the legislative races next year, the rumored retirement of U.S. Sen. John W. Warner in 2008, and the 2009 gubernatorial election. Mr. Warner has announced, however, that he will seek election as ranking member of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, when Congress convenes in January.

“We are the majority party [in Virginia] and will stay the majority by being a welcoming party,” Mr. Gillespie told about 500 people at the Homestead Resort in the Allegheny Mountains. “I promise you that if we are a welcoming party and one Virginia, the only thing ‘blue’ on Election Day will be our depressed Democratic opponents.”

He also pledged to reunify the party.

“I understand that Republicans who get elected in Fairfax are not going to agree 100 percent of the time with Republicans elected in Lynchburg or some other part of the state … ,” Mr. Gillespie said. “We are all one party, and we can live with differences, but we can’t live with divisions.”

Virginia Republicans selected Mr. Gillespie during the party’s 23rd annual Donald W. Huffman Advance luncheon, where anti-tax stickers were given out, the press was criticized and Ronald Reagan’s name continually popped up in speeches.

Top Republicans said the party needs to return to its conservative principles, to reach out to minorities and to reconnect with voters in the growing suburbs of Northern Virginia if it wants to maintain a strong footing in the state.

“If we do that, we can’t be stopped,” said Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.

At the event, Republicans celebrated local and national wins in the November election and sought to rally after U.S. Sen. George Allen’s unexpected loss to Democrat James H. Webb Jr.

“Take this election as a call to arms,” Mr. Bolling said. “Take this election as a rallying cry. We’re going to leave this place unified, and we are going to leave this place making sure our party remains the majority party in Virginia.”

State Attorney General Bob McDonnell said Virginia is still conservative, despite Mr. Allen’s loss.

“The rumors of our demise are greatly exaggerated,” he said. “When a Democrat wins a competitive race in Virginia, he does so by running as a moderate to conservative. In Virginia, Republicans don’t pose as Democrats, but Democrats do pose as Republicans.”

In his first public appearance since his failed re-election bid, Mr. Allen thanked party activists, saying, “The sun is still rising.”

He also hinted that his political career was not over.

“A deep-rooted tree will remain standing and grow again in the next season,” Mr. Allen said.

Mr. Webb’s win highlighted the recent struggles of the Republican Party to craft its message to the voter-rich suburbs of Northern Virginia. Mr. Webb and, last year, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, won in Loudoun and Prince William counties, regions that had been Republican strongholds.

U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III said the Republican Party can make its message more appealing to the changing face of Northern Virginia by fielding more candidates who are minorities and women.

“We need new messengers,” he said. “I’m telling you, this state is not going to go blue. It is going to stay red.”

When Mr. Gillespie, who has lived in Virginia for 13 years, was asked why he would take the job even though it pays nothing, he said, “I care about the commonwealth. … I think sometimes you can have a positive impact at the macro level and sometimes at the micro level,” he said. “This is a place where I think I can be of help.”

Delegate H. Morgan Griffith said Mr. Allen’s loss,, along with the legislative elections next year, could help push Republican state lawmakers to find a consensus in the continuing transportation debate.

“The closer you get to the fire, the more you feel the heat,” said Mr. Griffith, Salem Republican.

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