- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Former Gov. James S. Gilmore III said yesterday that if elected to the U.S. Senate in November he would push for more domestic oil production to combat high gas prices — a message he hopes will reconnect him and the Republican Party with Democrat-dominated Northern Virginia.

Mr. Gil-more told an audience of about 40 people at the Fairfax Rotary Club that the federal government should explore for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. “That’s what we have to do,” he said.

Mr. Gilmore, the presumed Republican front-runner to replace retiring Sen. John Warner, also a Republican, also said it is time to expand offshore drilling — including off Virginia’s coast — to tap into the estimated 86 billion barrels of oil in the intercontinental shelf.

“Increased domestic production, I can assure you, is going to make a big difference in the world oil market and gas prices can hopefully be going down,” he said. “This affects real people. It affects people in Northern Virginia seriously, where gas prices are usually a little higher up here.”

Gas prices in Virginia hit a record high yesterday. A gallon of regular fuel was selling for $3.51 on average, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Mr. Gilmore pledged to work with both Republicans and Democrats to help liberate the country from imported oil and undercut steep gas prices.

Congress has defeated efforts to open ANWR to oil exploration and drilling.

Former Gov. Mark Warner, the presumed Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate seat, regularly says on the campaign trail: “We’re spending upwards of $500 billion a year purchasing foreign oil from countries around the world — many of whom don’t like us.”

Spokesman Kevin Hall said Mr. Warner considers drilling in the Alaska refuge “a short-term, last-century solution to a 21st-century problem.”

“We need to be developing a broad range of clean alternative energy sources: solar, wind, hydro, a fresh look a nuclear, clean coal and biofuels,” Mr. Hall said.

He added that Mr. Warner is open to debate of offshore drilling.

Delegate Robert G. Marshall, one of Mr. Gilmore’s rivals at the May 30-31 Republican convention in Richmond, said he is open to offshore drilling, but noted that Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, opposes drilling in ANWR. “You would need to have 67 votes to overturn him if he gets elected,” the Prince William Republican said. “I would rather pursue the development of coal to liquid fuel. There is no reason we can’t do it because we are the Saudi Arabia of coal.”

The question of courting Northern Virginia voters has vexed Republicans since 2002, when Mr. Gilmore handed the governorship to Mr. Warner.

Since then, Democrats have retained control of the governor’s mansion and made inroads into the Republican majority in the Virginia House. Perhaps most telling was the election defeat of U.S. Sen. George Allen, another former Republican governor, to Jim Webb in 2006.

Democrats now have the chance to hold both of the state”s U.S. Senate seats for the first time since 1970.

Jim Rich, chairman of the 10th Congressional Republican District Committee, said Mr. Gilmore’s position on drilling — coupled with plans to reduce traffic congestion and taxes — could play well with Northern Virginia voters.

“I think he is smart to emphasize that issue because so much of our domestic energy sources are locked up,” he said. “It can be done in a environmentally stable way so there is no reason for it not to be done domestically.”

W. Bruce Jennings, president-elect of the Rotary Club, agreed.

“The other party panders to the environmentalist,” he said. “Therefore nothing happens, and we are constantly more dependent of foreign oil. It is going to kill us in the long run.”

Glen Besa, director of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, called Mr. Gilmore’s stance “a simple solution to complex problem and it’s wrong.”

“The finds associated with drilling in the Arctic or off the coast are not going to significantly change the supply equation with the growing demand from places like India and China,” he said. “They didn’t end the Stone Age because they ran out of stones. And they are not going to end the fossil-fuel age because we ran out of fossil fuel.”

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