Friday, February 8, 2008

RICHMOND — Virginia Republicans say the best outcome in the Democratic primary Tuesday is a victory for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton because that would draw more Republicans to the polls and help them win key state races.

Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick, Prince William County Republican, and other lawmakers said Republicans upset with the national party ignoring conservative tenets and President Bush’s job performance “are going to come back as soon as Hillary is named the nominee.”

“I’m rooting for her,” Mr. Frederick said.

The narrative has followed Mrs. Clinton across the country. Strategists from both parties have often said Republicans would prefer Mrs. Clinton because she will motivate the party base. However, some now think a Clinton victory will unify Republicans behind candidate Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, despite concerns about his conservative credentials.

“They may not turn out for McCain, but they will turn out against Hillary,” Mr. Frederick said.

The Clinton campaign yesterday said national polls suggest she will prove Republicans wrong.

“Virginians will get a chance to choose between John McCain, who supports the president’s economic policies and opposes universal health care, or Hillary Clinton, who wants to turn our economy around and supports universal health care,” said spokesman Mo Elleithee. “Given that choice, I like our chances.”

Conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh jokingly told listeners yesterday he was considering raising money for Mrs. Clinton.

“Apparently, the Republican strategy is relying on fear and loathing of Hillary to unite everybody,” he said. “If she’s not the nominee, that’s out the window.”

Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, a Democratic strategist for former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who recently exited the presidential race, said yesterday that “Hillary Clinton cannot win in Virginia in a general election.”

That would be good news for Virginia Republicans who have lost two straight gubernatorial elections, a U.S. Senate seat in 2006, and the state Senate in November.

Among the key races in which Republicans really need votes is the Senate contest between party member James S. Gilmore III and Mark Warner, a Democrat and former Virginia governor who remains popular among voters, especially those in Northern Virginia.

Mrs. Clinton’s party rival, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois is expected to do well in Virginia is areas with large black populations — including Richmond and Norfolk area. Mrs. Clinton, with her big-name recognition, is expected to do well in the more rural and suburban parts of the state.

Mr. Obama has already started airing commercials in Virginia. And he and Mrs. Clinton are expected to campaign across the state in the coming days.

They also are scheduled to speak Saturday at the annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Richmond, in part to win as many of Virginia’s 101 delegates as possible.

Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Fairfax County Republican, said Virginia voters are already suffering from “Clinton fatigue.”

“We’ve seen and heard enough of Mrs. Clinton over the years,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, agreed.

“There are very strong opinions about Senator Clinton,” he said. “She has a very divisive influence.”

Using opposition to Mrs. Clinton of New York to motivate Republicans is not unusual in Virginia.

For years, party leaders have featured her in fundraising letters and campaign stump speeches, including a retreat in Arlington in December.

Mr. Gilmore, a former Virginia governor, defended his poor showing in polls in his likely race against Mr. Warner. He said his strategy was “to defeat a Clinton-Warner ticket.”

“Once Virginia sees the Warner-Clinton ticket, they will recognize this ticket is liberal, partisan and do-nothing,” he also said.

Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, a Republican, suggested Mrs. Clinton is unpopular largely because he has a long record of liberal policy compared to Mr. Obama.

“Obama is more of an unknown,” he said.

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