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Republican operative Ed Gillespie eyeing Virginia U.S. Senate race

Gillespie, a former Republican National Commitee chief and aide to President George W. Bush, may take on Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

virginia mugNORFOLK, Virginia (CFP) — Ed Gillespie, a high-level Washington GOP political operative, is considering running for the U.S. Senate seat in Virginia now held by Democrat Mark Warner.

Ed Gillespie

Ed Gillespie

Gillespie, speaking to the Virginian-Pilot newspaper January 5 after meeting with Republican activists in Norfolk, said he has concluded that Warner can be beaten and will decide whether to run by early February.

“I have concluded it is a winnable race,” Gillespie said.

Should Gillespie run, it would set up a classic establishment-versus-Tea Party struggle within Republican ranks in the Old Dominion. Two former miltary officers, Howie Lind of McClean and Shak Hill of Centreville, are already in the race, running as outsiders and playing for Tea Party support.

Also, Virginia Republicans select their candidates through a convention, rather than a primary.  That could level the playing field for an outsider candidate who can develop a strong cadre of supporters to turn out at the convention, which will be held in June in Roanoke.

U.S. Senator Mark Warner

U.S. Senator Mark Warner

Whoever wins the GOP nomination will face the formidable Warner, a former governor who already has more $7 million in cash on hand for the 2014 race — a huge head start over any of the Republicans in the field.

Both The Rothenberg Political Report and Cook Political Report classify Warner’s seat as safely in Democratic hands.

Gillespie told the Virginian-Pilot that he thinks Warner is vulnerable because he has voted with President Obama “97 percent of the time.”

However, Virginia is no longer reliably Republican as it once was. Obama carried the state twice, and GOP candidates lost all three statewide races in 2013.

Although he has never sought office before, Gillespie, 52, is the connsumate Washington insider. He was a communications strategist in Bush’s winning campaign in 2000 and went on to chair the Republican National Committee. In 2007, he became a counselor in the Bush White House.

In April 2012, after Mitt Romney was finally able to claim the Republican presidential nomination, Gillespie signed on as a senior adviser to the Romney campaign.

Gillespie also has a long association with Karl Rove, the Bush political consigliere who has frequently drawn the ire of the party’s Tea Party wing.  He helped Rove create Crossroads GPS, the super-PAC that has backed establishment candidates facing Tea Party insurgencies.

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