Former Republican Party chief and lobbyist Ed Gillespie won the party's nomination for Virginia on Saturday and will take on Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Warner in the general election in November.
Gillespie, 52, won the nomination at the Virginia Republican Convention in Roanoke after his leading rival, retired Air Force pilot Shak Hill, conceded about 2:50 p.m., The Richmond Times-Dispatch
reports. That occurred within 90 minutes after voting began.
"I am so honored and I accept your nomination," Gillespie told about 2,700 delegates at the Roanoke Civic Center, the Times-Dispatch reports.
He faced two other challengers, congressional staffer Tony DeTora, and Chuck Moss, who owns a network consulting business.
A native of Mount Holly, N.J., Gillespie is the former Republican National Committee chairman and a former adviser to President George W. Bush and Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign. A former aide on Capitol Hill, Gillespie has also been a corporate lobbyist.
He also co-wrote the "Contract With America" with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
"We have come into this hall through different doors, but we will leave this hall through one Republican door united in our principles to defeat Mark Warner and take back the Senate," Gillespie said, The Washington Post
reports. "I will take your fight to Mark Warner. I will lead us to victory in the fall and we can turn our great country around again."
The vote reflected a desire for a candidate with broad appeal, as tea party-backed Republicans lost all three statewide elections last year, according to the Post.
Besides support from donors and establishment GOP backers, Gillespie has also earned the endorsement of many tea party conservatives.
"We will be together in the end," Gillespie said, the Times-Dispatch reports. "We are bound to have a victory in November.
"All of you who were not for me, I respect that, and I thank you for your participation, and now I ask you to please join team Gillespie. We want you and we need you."
Before the voting began, Gillespie slammed President Barack Obama and said that Virginia was critical to Republicans re-taking the Senate this fall.
"We know that this Virginia Senate race will have a national impact," he said, the Times-Dispatch reports.
"It won't just mean that Warner will become the former senator from Virginia. It also means that Harry Reid will become the former Senate majority leader.
"Liberals would have us believe that this mediocre economy is the new normal and the best that we can do," Gillespie added. "Nonsense. This economy is not a matter of fate but the result of Obama’s policies — and Mark Warner has voted with him 97 percent of the time."
The U.S. Senate is controlled by Democrats, who hold 55 of the 100 seats. Those include two independent seats, whose senators caucus with the party. But on Nov. 4, Democrats will be defending 21 of the 36 seats up for grabs.
Gillespie is far behind Warner in the money race, however. He has raised only $3 million for his Senate bid versus Warner's $12 million, the Times-Dispatch reports.
"That's a good start for Gillespie, but he has a steep mountain to climb in order to beat Warner," Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, told the newspaper.
"I expect a vigorous campaign,” he added. "Gillespie knows this is his shot at public office. He either wins the seat or comes close — or he probably won't get another chance to run in Virginia.
"Gillespie is an operative who knows politics just like Warner, and he can raise enough to at least be moderately competitive," Sabato said.
Earlier at the convention, Ken Cuccinelli, the 2013 Republican gubernatorial nominee, returned to state politics for the first time. He derided Warner for his support of the Affordable Care Act.
"Without Mark Warner's vote, we would not have Obamacare," Cuccinelli said, according to the Times-Dispatch.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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