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Gillespie Confident In Tough Battle for Virginia Senate Seat

Image: Gillespie Confident In Tough Battle for Virginia Senate Seat

Sunday, 08 Jun 2014 10:33 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

Virginia Republican Ed Gillespie is facing an uphill battle to defeat powerful incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, but he says that he can pull off what may be one of the nation's biggest upsets.

"I assure you I have never analyzed a race more carefully than this one, and it's a very winnable race," said Gillespie, 52, after the Virginia Republican Party nominated him at its convention on Saturday, reports Politico.

Gillespie is no stranger to campaigns, having served as the former Republican National Committee chairman and as an adviser to former President George W. Bush. He's also got the backing of several key Republicans, including Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who gave him a ringing endorsement on Friday before the convention began.

But Gillespie is polling well behind Warner, who is the wealthiest member of the Senate. All of the major pollsters, including Rasmussen Reports and Quinnipiac, show Warner with double-digit percentage leads over Gillespie, and Warner is very well liked in Virginia while Gillespie is still struggling with name recognition.

To be a contender, Gillespie will first have to face the money issue. He was able to raise more than $3 million since launching his campaign in January, Politico reports, which is more than any other non-incumbent Republican Senate candidate has raised.

The problem is, Warner has already raised $12.6 million, and had $8.8 million in his war chest at the end of March. He is also the co-founder of Nextel, and is worth an estimated quarter of a billion dollars.

But if super PACs back Gillespie, that margin could narrow quickly. Gillespie was one of the early supporters of American Crossroads and remains close to leaders Karl Rove and Steven Law.

"Crossroads does not make it a practice to announce our involvement in races in advance, but Ed’s strength as a candidate has made this race competitive in a swing state," said Crossroads spokesman Paul Lindsay. “We’re watching it closely.”

Gillespie will likely also need to target Warner with the ever-more-unpopular President Barack Obama.

The problem with that is, Warner often co-sponsors bills with conservative senators, supports entitlement reform, and is endorsed by Republican predecessor John Warner.

"They are going to run the same kind of cookie-cutter campaign against me that they’re going to run all over the country,” the senator said recently. “But I am not a cookie cutter kind of candidate and Virginia is not a cookie cutter state.”

Roanoke College pollster Harry Wilson said, though, that Gillespie is campaigning against "the most popular public figure in the Commonwealth." The Roanoke poll in March put Warner ahead by 27 points, with a 56-29 percent pick by supporters.

Gillespie will also have to make himself more publicly accessible. This week, he plans an 11-stop "economic growth" tour of the state and plans to spend more time on the road wooing local media outlets.

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