- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn. | Virginians attending the Republican National Convention say they are undeterred by the national attention recently lavished on their Democratic counterparts and remain confident the Old Dominion will swing toward Sen. John McCain in November’s presidential election.

“The fact that [Gov. Tim] Kaine and former [Gov. Mark] Warner and [Sen. Jim] Webb get attention doesn’t translate to any votes, in my opinion,” said Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, referring to the three Virginia Democrats who have played prominent national roles of late. “It always comes back to issues.”

Virginia Republicans are facing crucial elections this year and next: The state is seen as leaning increasingly to the left despite not having voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964.

What’s more, the party has lost two consecutive gubernatorial elections and is desperate to reclaim the governor’s seat with Mr. McDonnell’s bid in the 2009 race.

Adding to the challenge is the star power of Mr. Webb, who unseated Republican George Allen in 2006; Mr. Kaine, who emerged on the national stage during Sen. Barack Obama’s search for a running mate; and Mr. Warner, a former governor who is seeking to replace retiring Republican Sen. John W. Warner and last week gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

But Republicans - from party officials to delegates relishing their day on the convention floor - say their work to emphasize their message of national security and lower taxes will put both Mr. McCain and their other candidates in office.

“Whether state, local or national, I think [if] Republicans get our message out, we win,” said Chuck Smith, former chairman of the party’s Virginia Beach branch. “People need to vote for what they believe in.”

Chances Varson, a convention delegate from Pound, Va., said she hopes voters will side with Mr. McCain after comparing his experience with Mr. Obama’s.

She also said having the national spotlight focused on a Republican from the state would “be nice” but “not necessary” - a sentiment shared only somewhat by state Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick, who was elected chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia this summer.

“I’m quite pleased to fly underneath the radar,” Mr. Frederick said. “We do the work that we need to do … and we come out on top.”

Virginia Republicans have surfaced on the national stage of late, but only briefly.

Rep. Eric Cantor was mentioned for a time as a possible running mate for Mr. McCain. And Rep. Thelma Drake - who is battling for re-election in the state’s 2nd District - was scheduled to speak to the convention on Monday - before the day’s schedule was largely scrapped due to concerns over Hurricane Gustav, which was bearing down on New Orleans.

Randy Marcus, a convention delegate and aide to Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, admitted that the attention afforded to Democrats places a greater emphasis on efforts by Republicans this year and next.

“I think it shows us that we need to work extra hard to win this election in 2008, and build toward the statewide election in 2009,” Mr. Marcus said.

But Judi Lynch, a delegate from Christiansburg, Va., disputed the notion that state Republicans are working to rebuild the party.

“The truth of the matter is, Virginia is a red state,” she said. “We are proud to have guns and Bibles.”

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