- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Virginia Republicans hope the resignations of two high-ranking state party leaders will help them regain political clout in Northern Virginia, which played a key role in the defeat of incumbent Sen. George Allen.

“You have to look at the erosion that has occurred, particularly in Northern Virginia,” said Delegate Vincent F. Callahan Jr., Fairfax County Republican. “You have to look at the changing demographics.”

Mr. Callahan’s comments follow the resignation this week of Republican Party of Virginia Chairwoman Kate Obenshain Griffin and Executive Director Shawn M. Smith.

He was backed by other Virginia Republicans who said the party needs a new direction in the voter-rich suburbs of Northern Virginia, which has helped Democrats win three consecutive major statewide elections, starting with former Gov. Mark Warner’s defeat of Republican Mark Earley in 2001 and including James H. Webb Jr.’s defeat last week of Mr. Allen.

Mr. Allen, who handpicked Mrs. Griffin to lead the party, has appointed her to serve as his chief of staff for the remainder of his term. Some Capitol Hill insiders see Mrs. Griffin’s appointment as a golden parachute, given she will likely earn a large salary for a short-term job.

Republicans say Ed Gillespie, former Republican Party national chairman, is a front-runner to succeed Mrs. Griffin.

Mr. Allen’s defeat was the second statewide setback for Republicans in as many years. Last year, Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine defeated Republican Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore in the gubernatorial race.

“We’ve lost two straight gubernatorial elections and now the unheard of happened with George Allen losing,” Mr. Callahan said. “Of course, there were other circumstances involved, but the bottom line is they lost.”

Mr. Allen’s loss gave Democrats control of the U.S. Senate and likely hurt his chances of running for president in 2008.

Republicans say they must learn from the loss, by strengthening their message and grass-roots networks in Northern Virginia and across the state.

“When you win a lot of times, like we have, you often start to neglect your grass roots,” said Delegate M. Kirkland Cox,Colonial Heights Republican.

Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax County Republican, said a new message would pay off in Northern Virginia.

“I always operate my campaigns independent of the statewide Republican Party, because I don’t think it relates to my constituents well,” he said.

The state Republican Party tried to broaden its appeal in Northern Virginia earlier this year with a report designed to bolster support in the region.

However, Mr. Callahan said the report provided little insight.

“It surely didn’t tell me anything new,” he said. “It just pointed me at the obvious. It was an exercise in parlor talk.”

Delegate Brian J. Moran, Alexandria Democrat, compared the resignations to putting a “Band-Aid on a broken bone.”

“It’s not a matter of personnel,” he said. “It is [the party’s] rigid ideology. The Democrats have become the party of problem solvers, while the Republicans have been stuck in rigid ideology that is uncompromising and does not lend itself to good governing.”

Other Republicans yesterday supported Mrs. Griffin, saying the start of her leadership in 2003 was a tumultuous time for Republicans.

Chairman Gary R. Thomson stepped down after he and several other top Republicans were implicated in a eavesdropping case involving a Democratic conference call. He and Edmund A. Matricardi III, who served as executive director of the state party, 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. Then in 2004, 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, the largest tax increase in the state’s history.

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

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