- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Top conservative leaders yesterday urged people to encourage former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore to run for retiring Sen. John W. Warner’s seat, the latest early endorsement that comes as the party sorts out whether to pick its nominee through a convention or primary.

“We need Jim Gilmore’s steady, conservative leadership in the U.S. Senate,” said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, and Paul Weyrich, chief executive officer of Free Congress Foundation, a District-based conservative think tank.

Mr. Gilmore, the son of a butcher who was elected attorney general in 1993 and governor in 1997, has been laying the groundwork for a U.S. Senate bid since Mr. Warner, 80, announced late last month he would not seek a sixth term.

Mr. Keene and Mr. Weyrich said Mr. Gilmore was a champion of the taxpayer, cutting 16 different taxes on working men and women in Virginia. They also highlighted his position on social issues, saying, “Jim Gilmore stood for the sanctity of life and the preservation of traditional family values time and time again.”

By most accounts, the contest for the Republican nomination is shaping up as a race between Mr. Gilmore and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, who has stockpiled more than $1 million for a potential bid.

Both men have said they will announce whether they have decided to run after the Nov. 6 general election when all 140 seats in the General Assembly are up for grabs.

The Republican State Central Committee could vote as early as Oct. 13 whether to pick their nominee by convention or primary.

The Republican nominee is expected to face former Gov. Mark Warner, the deep-pocketed Democrat from Alexandria who last week announced his candidacy.

Recent endorsements underscore the potential ideological collision between the straight-down-the-line conservatives backing Mr. Gilmore and Republicans who think Mr. Davis’ centrist stances represent the party’s best shot at keeping the seat.

Mr. Davis has scored the lowest career American Conservative Union rating among Virginia Republicans in Congress. The grade is based on three general categories: economic and budget matters, social and cultural issues, and defense and foreign policy.

Mr. Keene’s public show of support is the latest Mr. Gilmore has gained from top conservative leaders.

Within hours of John Warner’s retirement announcement, Virginia’s Republican National Committee leaders Morton C. Blackwell and Anne P. Petera also urged people to push Mr. Gilmore to run, saying he is the “solid, reliable conservative” the party needs.

Last week, nine Republican leaders, including former Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, threw their support behind Mr. Davis, describing him as “the person best-suited to represent our principles and keep the seat in Republican hands.”

“Tom has a 21st-century vision for tackling the biggest challenges we face — entitlement spending, the war on terror, illegal immigration, energy independence, and the global economy,” the leaders said in a letter. “And he’s the kind of pragmatic bridge-builder who can actually get things done on all of these fronts and more.”

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