With the loss of the State Senate to the Democrats, there is a lot of talk in Republican circles about what went wrong in 2007 and what steps we as a party can take to reverse our recent misfortune. Some say we need to move in a more conservative direction. Others think moderation is the answer. For me, the key to rebuilding our party is nominating conservative candidates, but those that can actually win!
The 2008 US Senate race will be critical for the Republican Party in Virginia. We know that Mark Warner will most likely be the Democratic nominee. Warner is immensely popular and will be very difficult for any Republican to beat. However, if we learned nothing else from George Allen's loss in 2006, it's that there is no "sure thing". Mark Warner is beatable. We just need the right candidate.
With Tom Davis declining to run, former Governor Jim Gilmore is the only Republican officially in the race. And Jim Gilmore is not the candidate that can beat Mark Warner. Early polls have Mark Warner up by 20 points. Granted, those margins will shrink as time goes by, but Gilmore will definitely lose this election and the Democrats will capture their second US Senate seat in as many years.
Gilmore's unfavorable rating is much higher than his favorable. Virginia voters know Jim Gilmore and many of them won't even consider him as a candidate. You simply cannot win with such high disapproval ratings.
I would also predict that Gilmore cannot count on carrying Western Virginia--a part of the State any Republican candidate must win. The reason? The Car Tax State spending program. Most in Western Virginia believe the car tax program was a giveaway to Northern Virginia and they hold Jim Gilmore responsible.
So, if Gilmore is not the right candidate, you are probably asking who is. Delegate Chris Saxman has shown some interest in running. I served with Delegate Saxman in the General Assembly and found him to be a thoughtful, capable legislator. He certainly has solid conservative credentials. If this is the only choice, I would support Saxman over Gilmore.
I would personally like to see Lt Governor Bill Bolling throw his hat in the ring. Having served with Bolling in the Senate, I have first hand knowledge of his grasp on the important issues and his dedication to our Commonwealth. Bolling has won a statewide campaign and understands the challenges facing each region of our state. He has acknowledged that we must re-tool our message in Northern Virginia. Despite what some Republicans may think, Bolling knows that we simply cannot write off this vote-rich area and expect to win. And unlike Gilmore, Bolling could count on the Republican base in Western Virginia. Bolling can run hard for this Senate seat with little risk. If unsuccessful, he still has the opportunity to run for re-election in 2009. Running for re-election also allows him to avoid a three way race for Governor with fellow Republicans Allen and McDonnell.