Saturday, February 14, 2009

RICHMOND | Ed Gillespie, the former Republican National Committee chairman and White House counselor to President George W. Bush, has a role in Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell’s campaign for Virginia governor, underscoring the national importance of the race.

Mr. McDonnell’s campaign said Friday that Mr. Gillespie will be general chairman of Mr. McDonnell’s 2009 bid to win the governor’s office for Republicans for the first time since 2001.

The already high-profile race involves a former Democratic National Committee chairman, Terry McAuliffe - a close friend of former President Bill Clinton.

Last month, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine took over as Democratic National Committee chairman with an implied mandate to elect a Democrat to succeed him.

Republicans, reeling from last year’s electoral drubbing that included losing Virginia in a presidential race for the first time in 44 years, are desperate to halt an eight-year losing skid in Virginia.

The party, under newly elected national committee Chairman Michael S. Steele of Maryland, has targeted Mr. McDonnell’s race for intense funding and organizational support.

The race takes on additional importance because only two states, Virginia and New Jersey, elect governors this year and because it is the first referendum on President Obama and the Democratic Congress heading into the 2010 midterm House and Senate elections.

Mr. Gillespie is familiar with Virginia politics and lives in Fairfax County. In 2006, he was an adviser to Sen. George Allen’s unsuccessful re-election bid. A few weeks after that election, he took over as Virginia party chairman, a post he held for about six months before Mr. Bush appointed him his top White House adviser.

Mr. McDonnell is unopposed for the Republican gubernatorial nomination and plans to resign as attorney general on Feb. 20 to campaign and raise money full time. Mr. Gillespie will have a role in Mr. McDonnell’s campaign strategy, communications and policy, said campaign manager Phil Cox.

Mr. McAuliffe, state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds of Bath County and former House of Delegates Democratic Caucus Chairman Brian J. Moran are in a punishing primary fight for the Democratic nomination. The winner will face Mr. McDonnell in the November general election.

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