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Ed Gillespie’s main GOP rival drops out of Virginia U.S. Senate race

Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner is endorsed by his Republican predecessor, John Warner

♦By Rich Shumate,

virginia mugRICHMOND (CFP) — High-powered Republican political operative Ed Gillespie is one step closer to his party’s U.S. Senate nomination in Virginia after one of his two GOP rivals dropped out of the race.

U.S. Senator Mark Warner

U.S. Senator Mark Warner

Meanwhile, the Democratic incumbent , U.S. Senator Mark Warner, got a high-profile Republican endorsement from a one-time political rival, former U.S. Senator John Warner.

John Warner said Mark Warner (no relation) “crosses the aisle and makes things work,”

“We come from the old school,” John Warner said in a statement. “The Senate works best when there’s collaborative effort between the two parties.”

Mark Warner unsuccessfully challenged John Warner for his Senate seat in 1996 and replaced him when he retired in 2008.

Over on the Republican side, just two weeks after Gillespie’s entry into the race, Howie Lind, a former military officer from McClean, called it quits, saying his fundraising had dried up.

“The financial resources to continue this campaign for a statewide office are not available since Ed Gillespie has joined the race,” Lind said in a statement. “Statewide campaigns are very expensive, and financial backing corresponds directly to political strength and the ability to win on election day.”

Lind, who entered the Senate race last June, had raised more than $300,000 — a respectable amount for someone who has never held political office but just a fraction of the more than $7 million that Mark Warner has raised.

With Lind out of the race, Gillespie’s only GOP opponent is Shak Hill, a former military officer from Centreville, who, like Lind, is running as an outsider and seeking Tea Party support.

Virginia Senate hopeful Ed Gillespie

Virginia Senate hopeful Ed Gillespie

Though he, too, has never held elected office, Gillespie, 52, is a consummate Washington insider. He was a communications strategist for President George W. Bush’s winning campaign in 2000 and went on to serve as head of the Republican National Committee and a White House counselor.

In April 2012, after Mitt Romney was finally able to claim the Republican presidential nomination, he 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 held Rove create Crossroads GPS, the super-PAC that has backed establishment candidates facing Tea Party insurgencies.

Gillespie’s entry into the Senate race sets up a class establishment-versus-Tea Party struggle within Republican ranks in the Old Dominion.

Unlike in most states, Republicans in Virginia select their nominees with a party 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.

Both The Rothenberg Political Report and Cook Political Report classify Warner’s seat as safely in Democratic hands. Obama carried Virginia twice, and Democrats swept all three of the state’s top offices in the 2013 elections for the first time since 1969,

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