He came to the Senate with President Obama in 2008, backing most of the president's initiatives like the stimulus, auto and bank bailouts, Obamacare, and expanded gun background checks, but it's only now that Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner may be forced to answer for his votes as former Republican Party boss Ed Gillespie prepares to enter the race today.
Allies of Gillespie said that the former national and Virginia state GOP chief plans a campaign that will paint Warner as an Obama clone, somebody out of step with the generally moderate-to-conservative mood in the politically purple state.
“There are many ways to expose Mark Warner as decidedly to the left of the carefully crafted, focus group-inspired and personally funded image of him as some type of reasonable moderate. He isn’t,” said Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway.
“This is the first time the class of 2008 will be held to account for the stimulus, Obamacare, the bailouts,” she added.
Democrats are ready. Not only is Warner already well funded, sitting on a $7 million war chest, but they plan to label Gillespie a lobbyist with little experience to step into the Senate.
Matt Canter, of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said, “Ed Gillespie's campaign is based on a false and dishonest premise -- not surprising given Gillespie's background as a Washington special interest lobbyist and ultrapartisan Washington spin doctor. The truth is that Mark Warner is recognized by both Democrats and Republicans as a leader in the Senate in working across party lines to achieve common sense solutions, and Virginians won't be fooled by the negative campaign of Gillespie and his special interest allies."
Lily Adams of the Democratic National Committee added, "If the Republicans want to make this a campaign about Mark Warner’s record they can go right ahead. Senator Warner has spent his term in the Senate and four years as governor working with Republicans to get things done on behalf of Virginians. Ed Gillespie on the other hand has spent his years shilling for Bush economics that helped tank the economy and greasing the wheels for special interests looking to get favors in Washington D.C."
A resume long in government experience, however, hasn't been a must for Virginia voters. New Gov. Terry McAuliffe was a Democratic political operative, fundraiser and party boss before winning. And Warner had never won office before becoming governor in 2002, suggesting that Virginians are accepting of candidates who don't come up the political ladder the typical way.
Warner has won two big statewide races, but Gillespie chaired former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's campaign and helped many Republicans during his short state GOP chairmanship.
Conway said he also has three other things going for him: Gillespie is new to voters, isn't sour and has a wife who's a political whiz.
“Ed fits the dual bill that voters seem to value in a candidate. He’s somebody who has seasoning and experience in policy and politics but who has never held public office.” Plus, she added, Gillespie is an “affable, assessable Republican messenger who doesn’t wear the gravity of his message.”
And, said Conway, Gillespie has a secret weapon in his politically active wife Cathy, who built the “W Stands For Women” campaign that helped former President George W. Bush cure the gender gap in the 2004 election.Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com.