With most signs pointing to former Republican Party chief Ed Gillespie as the likely GOP candidate against freshman Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in Virginia, Gillespie told Newsmax his opponent was a key proponent of the unpopular Obamacare law.
Warner "not only voted for it but he helped whip the votes of freshman senators to get it passed four years ago," Gillespie said Monday in an exclusive interview, offering a preview of his campaign strategy.
"And he said he would never vote to take away healthcare that you've got right now or a healthcare plan that you like," said Gillespie, who served as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2003 to 2005.
At a meeting of the Republican Party of Virginia in Richmond this past weekend, a straw poll found Gillespie, who is also a former state party chairman, favored by 68 percent of participants.
Moreover, although there are three other candidates in the race, "upwards of 60 percent of the members of the [Virginia Republican] State Central Committee support Ed for the nomination," said Heidi Stirrup, 10th District representative to the GOP state central committee from Prince William County.
The GOP will nominate its Senate candidate at the Republican State Convention in June.
Gillespie, 52, echoed the confidence of his supporters that he will be the GOP nominee while spelling out to Newsmax the kind of campaign he plans to run against Warner.
Warner's "actual record is at odds with the public perception that he wants us to believe," Gillespie said, citing the senator's vote against a balanced-budget amendment; for a carbon tax; and against an amendment to repeal a tax on medical devices.
"He'd have us believe he is a fiscal moderate, but when he votes for the failed stimulus package and is rated 38 percent by the National Federation of Independent Business and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, he isn't," Gillespie said.
Warner won his first term handily in 2008 as Barack Obama was carrying Virginia's presidential votes, and is a past governor of the Old Dominion State.
But while many polls give Warner a strong lead in his re-election bid, national GOP and conservative leaders have been increasingly naming him as an incumbent vulnerable to a strong challenge this fall.
In recent weeks, Virginia was cited as a promising GOP net gain in the Senate by both Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus and James L. Martin, chairman of the 60 Plus Association and leading proponent of the "death tax" repeal.
The Republican hopeful also says the Keystone XL pipeline and the likelihood of the fresh jobs it will create will be major issues.
Although Warner says he supports construction of the pipeline — Obama has had the bill on his desk for more than five years — Gillespie pointed out that in March 2012, Warner opposed an amendment to approve the Keystone XL and require the route for the pipeline in Nebraska to be submitted by the state.
The measure lost in the Senate 56-42, with Warner voting "nay" and Virginia's other Democratic senator, Jim Webb, voting "aye."
Gillespie knows from personal experience that winning campaigns must be accompanied by positive agendas as well as criticism of an incumbent's record.
As a top staffer of then-Rep. Dick Armey of Texas in 1994, he was a principal drafter of the GOP's Contract with America, which provided for a balanced budget and welfare reform and helped Republicans capture both houses of Congress that year.
"The incumbent's agenda has killed jobs, lowered take-home pay, and raised energy costs," said Gillespie. "My agenda will lead to job creation, greater take-home pay, and lower energy costs."
Like his political hero the late Jack Kemp, a former New York congressman and 1996 GOP vice presidential nominee, Gillespie also believes in taking the conservative agenda to voters who normally don't vote Republican.
"We opened our headquarters in Lorton [Va.] and more than 200 people came. It was moving to see the number of Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and the young people there," Gillespie said. "They want to hear a message of opportunity, and that's what we'll offer in this campaign."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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