Veteran GOP strategist Ed Gillespie is hoping to unseat Virginia's popular Democratic Sen. Mark Warner by reaching out to wary tea party stalwarts, and by seeking support outside the traditional Republican base, The Washington Post reported.
Gillespie, 52, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, came up with the 1994 "Contract with America" that gave the GOP a platform to capture the House for the first time since 1954. He has strategized for big-name Republicans like Dick Armey and Haley Barbour and worked with Karl Rove to build the American Crossroads Super PAC.
Now, Gillespie is running in his own race.
"This is me, talking about what I believe, what I'm for, not advocating for someone else. When people don't like that, it does feel a little more personal than it did in the past," he told the Post. "I try not to be my own adviser, to not be my own campaign manager or strategist in the process. It’s hard sometimes."
He needs to win the June 7 Republican primary against Shak Hill, Chuck Moss, and Tony DeTora – before pursuing his uphill battle against Warner. Gillespie believes that, despite trailing badly in the polls, he can yet overcome Warner.
“He understands policy, but he is able to express his views on policy in an easily understandable way,” said former Mississippi Gov. Barbour, who in the mid-1990s recruited Gillespie to be his communications director while he was chairman of the Republican National Committee.
“We saw him as an able, serious, adult person who also happened to be fun to be around. Man, we grabbed him,” recalled Armey, the former House majority leader.
Gillespie is not the first party strategist to seek Virginia elective office. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe was a chairman of the national Democratic Party. In addition to the executive mansion, Democrats control the state senate and other statewide offices. President Barack Obama carried the state twice.
Gillespie has been downplaying his Washington insider credentials. But Democrats have already pointed out that he was a lobbyist for the fraudulent energy firm Enron, now bankrupt.
And some tea party activists argue that he is not conservative enough. "He's a big-government Republican," said Steven Waters, a grass-roots leader and organizer.
The candidate says he is nonetheless confident that he can win in part by reaching out to ideological opponents within the party and traditionally non-Republican constituencies including Muslims and African American. Gillespie plans also to appeal to Spanish and Korean speakers.
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