GOP activists in Virginia nominated Ed Gillespie for the U.S. Senate on Saturday, setting up a November showdown between the former Republican National Committee chairman and incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Warner.
Before Gillespie entered the race earlier this year, neither Democrats nor Republicans really anticipated that the Senate race would be competitive, citing Warner’s popularity and the GOP’s inability to field a viable candidate.
But Republicans are hoping Gillespie, a longtime Republican operative who has worked for George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, can use his fundraising prowess and political expertise to mount a credible effort in November.
He enters the general election against Warner as an underdog. While there hasn’t been much public polling pitting Gillespie versus Warner, the Real Clear Politics average shows Warner ahead of Gillespie by nearly 20 points.
Delegates nominated Gillespie on Saturday over several little-known candidates at the Republican Party of Virginia Convention in Roanoke. He defeated Allstate agent Shak Hill on the first ballot.
Ahead of the convention, Gillespie spent the campaign wooing delegates – usually more conservative and politically active than those who would vote in a primary – and arguing that he is sufficiently conservative.
“I think he is a fine, reliable and electable conservative here in Virginia, and I’m very glad he is running,” Morton Blackwell, a prominent Virginia conservative and president of the conservative Leadership Institute, told The Daily Caller recently.
“I don’t have any doubt that when it comes to the important things that United States senators can do for conservative principles — Ed Gillespie is going to be in there doing them,” Blackwell said.
At a gathering on Friday night before the convention vote, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan offered his support to Gillespie. In remarks to the crowd, he referenced Gillespie’s early days in Washington as a parking lot attendant.
“It’ll be kind of neat to see him walk from the Senate parking lot to the Senate floor, wouldn’t it?” Ryan said.
Now with his sights on Warner, the Republican is expected to aggressively argue that Warner is a reliable vote for President Obama — and not the centrist Democrat he has painted himself as.