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Ed Gillespie crosses Tea Party-GOP establishment divide in Va. Senate bid

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Virginia,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Republican Party,Tea Party,2014 Elections,George W. Bush,Bob McDonnell,Mitt Romney

Ed Gillespie, a former top aide to President George W. Bush who chaired both the Republican National Committee and Virginia GOP, said he is considering a bid against Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, automatically putting Virginia in play and giving the Republicans their best chance to take back control of the Senate.

Gillespie was in Hot Springs, Va., over the weekend talking with state GOP officials who were beginning the planning for the next party convention, where Warner's opponent will be selected. Two other candidates with ties to the Tea Party are also planning to run.

Party officials, seeing that no major Republican appeared eager to challenge Warner, a former Virginia governor, have been encouraging Gillespie to consider a bid.

If elected, Gillespie would be following in the footsteps of the Old Dominion's new governor, Terry McAuliffe, another former party chairman who chose to run for a top state political position in his first campaign.

Gillespie is close to the mainstream of the GOP but has also been very supportive of the loosely knit Tea Party establishment that propelled Attorney Gen. Ken Cuccinelli in his losing bid to McAuliffe.

He has often spoken out in support of Tea Party efforts like cutting taxes, and is a conservative with strong ties to activist groups like the anti-tax Americans for Tax Reform and anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony’s List.

In October, for example, he was pressed on the influence of the Tea Party in an interview with the Gate, a political news outfit at the University of Chicago. He said:

“The influx of Tea Party voters in the past five years or so has helped Republicans gain control of the U.S. House of Representatives. I think they will help us pick up seats in the Senate in this midterm, and I think sometimes there are strains when you have new people coming in to a party and friction between different factions of a party. That’s only natural – like I said – with a two-party system for a country this size. But I would also say that growing pains are better than shrinking pains. It’s better that Tea Party voters are coming into the Republican Party and making it possible to win the House of Representatives in 2010 and also a majority of state legislatures around the country, and governorships as well.”

Strategists said that Warner is beatable and a victory could be the GOP's 51st vote in the Senate, giving Republicans control of the House and Senate in the 2014 elections. “Up until now there were no big challengers to Warner. This changes that and a Gillespie victory would be the one vote needed to change the Senate,” said one.

In a statement to Secrets, Gillespie, 52, said that Warner hasn’t turned out to be the moderate senator Virginia voters hoped for.

“They thought he'd be an independent voice, but he's voted with President Obama 97 percent of the time since he got elected with him in 2008. They thought he'd be fiscally responsible, but he voted for a trillion dollar stimulus bill that borrowed from future generations to waste on pork barrel spending,” he said, adding, “and he promised he'd never vote for a bill that would mean people losing the insurance they like if they wanted to keep it, then cast the deciding vote in favor of Obamacare.”

While he has never run for office before, he has been involved in politics and campaigns for years, having been a top aide to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and advisor to three presidential candidates, including Mitt Romney. He was counselor to Bush during the last 18 months of the administration and chaired Gov. Bob McDonnell's gubernatorial campaign. He was picked to run the RNC in 2003, and helped the GOP win Bush's re-election and control of the House and Senate.

Gillespie, who lives near George Washington's Mount Vernon home in Fairfax County, is not expected to officially announce his decision to run until early next year.

If he runs, he would likely have to give up his strategic advice company, Gillespie Strategies. He also chairs the Republican State Leadership Committee, which helps elect attorneys general, lieutenant governors, secretaries of state and legislators and is on the board of trustees for the Catholic University of America, where he went to college.

Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.