In a move that surprised many political activists, yesterday Senator Obenshain (R-Rockingham), widely considered to be the Republican front-runner for the Republican nomination for governor of Virginia in 2017, announced that he would not be seeking that office. With Obenshain’s decision, it now seems likely that Ed Gillespie will not only seek the nod, but also be the new presumptive front-runner. Gillespie, as one may recall, narrowly lost the race for U.S. Senate in 2014.
Although some people in the Republican Party are enthusiastic about Gillespie being their standard-bearer in 2017, others have expressed dismay. Rewinding the clock to the last election, I spoke to many liberty activists in Virginia who were opposed to Gillespie, viewing him as yet another establishment, big government Republican. As the 2014 election drew close, a vast majority of liberty-minded Republicans told me that they would be casting their ballots for Libertarian Robert Sarvis as opposed to the official Republican nominee. A few others stated that they would write-in Shak Hill or simply not vote. At one point, I could only find one member of the liberty movement statewide who openly supported Gillespie. Even though that number has grown slightly, a vast majority of the liberty activists in Virginia seemed to be opposed to a Gillespie candidacy in 2014 and have remained that way today.
Does that mean that Gillespie cannot win in 2017? Certainly not. After all, even without the support of many traditional Republican voters he came remarkably close to knocking off Senator Mark Warner. Now, I don’t think it is unreasonable to say that Warner has far better name id and favorability than likely 2017 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ralph Northam. Therefore, one would assume Gillespie’s chances couldn’t get any worse. However, if the Republican Party of Virginia nominates Gillespie again, it will likely widen the rift and civil war currently plaguing the party.
For one example, last night one of my liberty-minded friends posted a piece on Facebook in support of Ed Gillespie’s candidacy. Although several people were quick to respond, denouncing Gillespie publicly, I was told that even more expressed their disapproval of him privately. As another activist wrote, “Anyone who wants to challenge Gillespie for the 2017 gubernatorial nomination in VA – please get in touch with me about helping your campaign.”
Even though I would argue that Obenshain is in a weaker position than he found himself in 2013, yesterday’s announcement was still unexpected. Given the relationship between Obenshain and Gillespie, I wouldn’t be surprised if the state senator throws his support behind the former RPV Chairman. However, unless Gillespie discovered and articulates the principles of liberty, I assume that one or more conservative challengers will rise up to oppose him. And, meaning no disrespect to Ed Gillespie, as he seems like a decent person outside of politics, if Gillespie is the nominee again then I hope that the Libertarians nominate a strong candidate so that the liberty vote within the Republican Party, the Libertarian Party, and elsewhere has someplace to make itself heard.