The press has all but written off the Senate race in Virginia this fall, in which Democrat Mark Warner is expected to replace retiring Republican John Warner as easily as switching the first names on the office door. Virginia has topped Chris Cillizza’s Senate line as the seat most likely to change parties ever since Warner declared. With good reason: Warner is zillionaire who can finance himself and is a hugely popular ex-governor in a purple state that has handed Democrats some impressive wins since 2001.
The temptation to write-off the Virginia race, well-founded though it may be, means that interesting developments among the Republican would-be contenders are being overlooked and under-analyzed, however. The Virginia GOP looks to be pressing rightward. First moderate Republican Tom Davis declined to get into the race. And now Jim Gilmore, the former governor and RNC chair (and presidential also-ran), the establishment conservative in the contest, is facing a challenge to his right from Delegate Bob Marshall. Much of Marshall’s support comes from social conservatives, who are dissatisfied with Gilmore’s views on abortion (he would allow it in the first eight weeks of pregnancy). He scores points with economic conservatives as well for successfully challenging the taxation powers of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. And Marshall’s “crunchy” supporters tout his endorsement by the state chapters of the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters.
Leon has cautioned me against buying into Republican rhetoric that sounds vaguely antiwar but isn’t. I’m a little more optimistic than Leon, though: sooner or later conventional conservative Republicans are going to have to devise political “exit strategies” of their own. Marshall’s campaign page on foreign policy is an interesting melange: he emphasizes that only Congress can declare war, and he even talks about just war theory. He says Iraq was a just war — but frames the issue by saying, “Without having access to classified war briefings, I can make informed, though not completely definitive, judgments about the Iraq War.” (Gilmore has his own “exit strategy”: ignoring the issue altogether. “As a veteran, I am strongly committed to supporting America’s troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world.” Now there’s a bold stand!)
The Gilmore guys are confident that their candidate will get the nomination at Virginia’s Republican state convention on May 31. It’s hard to know for sure: the delegate selection process is convoluted and ongoing. Gilmore’s establishment background should give him an edge — but that’s why I’m rooting for Marshall. The GOP establishment needs a shake-up, and while Marshall’s not a perfect candidate, he’s much better than business as usual.