SPRINGFIELD, Va. — As a thunderstorm soaked the golf course at this northern Virginia country club on Tuesday evening, Republican Senate candidate Ed Gillespie was inside a packed ballroom firing up about 200 committed volunteers.
“I will fight against any efforts to raise our taxes in the United States Senate!”
“I won’t just vote for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, I will introduce one!”
“I will stand up for our coal miners in Virginia and the families and small businesses that rely on them!”
Some more applause.
“I will work day and night to replace Obamacare with policies that work!”
Democrats have tried to cause Gillespie — the former RNC chairman, George W. Bush adviser and Mitt Romney aide — problems with the right. Before he even officially entered the race, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee circulated opposition research to reporters citing his resume as a professional political operative and past comments on Obamacare to self-servingly claim he is “out of step with Tea Party Republicans.”
But despite these efforts, Gillespie appears to have successfully wooed conservatives: he is likely to win the Republican nomination to take on incumbent Democrat Mark Warner at the state GOP’s convention on June 7. He faces competition at the convention from Allstate Insurance agent Shak Hill, a political unknown.
In a brief interview with a pair of reporters before Tuesday’s event at the Springfield Golf and Country Club, Gillespie responded to a question from The Daily Caller about his wooing of the base by saying: “I understand their skepticism. I have served in a lot of different jobs over 30 years.”
But citing his positions on Obamacare and the national debt, Gillespie said: “They realize that we’re in agreement on just about everything.”
“I’d say, you know, whether you come in through a tea party door, or a liberty movement door, or a traditional unit door, we’re in agreement on about 80 percent on what we’re for and 100 percent on what we’re against,” Gillespie added.
At Tuesday evening’s event, there were packets of information available to supporters rebutting the attacks on his conservative bona fides. Several pages were devoted to showing his opposition to Obamacare and the individual mandate — something Democrats suggested that Gillespie once supported in his book. He has denied this.
“Democrats are at it again,” the Gillespie campaign document said. “They see that the Obamacare law that Mark Warner gave us with his vote in the Senate is so unpopular, that they’re trying to distort a passage from Ed’s book to tie him to it.”
His efforts are apparently paying off.
“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, said in an interview.
“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.
“If there’s an effort to prevent the confirmation of a leftist supreme court justice — and an opening can happen any day — I don’t have any doubt that Gillespie would be one of the most effective leaders against that confirmation,” he said. “And that’s critically important.”
Former Gov. Jim Gilmore and former Sen. George Allen were among those who drank coffee and nibbled on desserts at Tuesday evening’s reception for Gillespie, just about 20 minutes outside Washington.
“This is going to be a good year,” Allen told the crowd. “Everybody observing this election year says this is going to be a good year for Republicans across the country.”
“Will it be like 2010?” Allen said, referencing the GOP’s landslide that led to the recapturing of control of the U.S. House. “We sure hope it’s like 2010.”
It may take a Republican tsunami in the 2014 elections for Gillespie to defeat Warner, who is leading by nearly 20 points in some polls. Even Gillespie acknowledges the race is an uphill battle, as he works to increase his name ID across the state.
“This is a very winnable race,” Gillespie told supporters on Tuesday. “It’s not an easily winnable race. It’s going to take a lot of work.”
After he likely becomes the Republican nominee next weekend, Gillespie will be tasked with convincing voters that Warner, a popular figure in the state, is not “the pro-business Democrat that he says that he is,” as the candidate told the crowd Tuesday.
“I want to make sure everyone knows this because we have to push it out to our friends, and our neighbors and our co-workers,” he said.
His pitch against Warner includes how the National Federation of Independent Business once gave the Democrat a low 38 percent rating; how the senator supports cap-and-trade legislation; and how Warner was the 60th senator to vote for Obamacare.
“All these things add up to a voting record that shows he is not the independent voice for Virginia he said he would be,” Gillespie said.
During the country club event, Gillespie quizzed his volunteers on his central argument against Warner.
“His voting record with President Obama and Harry Reid is what?”
“97 percent,” the crowd replied in unison, repeating the oft-cited statistic from the campaign.
A beaming Gillespie responded: “I cannot find the three percent where he didn’t, by the way.”