One big headline before the 2014 Virginia Republican convention was former Republican Senator John Warner’s endorsement of Democratic Senator Mark Warner. In 1996, the Warners faced each other in a Senate race with Mark Warner finishing surprisingly well for a first-time candidate 47.4% to 52.5%.
However, as fellow Shenandoah Valley blogger Lynn Mitchell and the Roanoke Free Press report, since that time more former Republican elected officials have come out in support of the Democratic Senator including a handful of former delegates, state senators, and even a former governor.
I must confess, at first glance this news seems rather curious. After all, one could argue that the establishment candidate (Ed Gillespie) won the convention. If the more conservative Shak Hill had emerged the nominee, then this result would be less of a surprise; one could label it a establishment backlash against the grassroots.
What can we make of this situation? Does it signal a terribly weakened Virginia Republican Party? Does the GOP have little ideological cohesion where loyalty to the party, even from former elected officials, is not a certainty? Or is it the case that Mark Warner is simply that popular with a multitude of demographics across the state and/or Ed Gillespie is that unpopular?
Former State Senator Brandon Bell seems to think the last option when he stated, “You know what you’re getting with Mark Warner – someone who works with both sides of the aisle and forges consensus. On the other hand, Ed Gillespie was national party chair when I served in the Senate. He was not willing to take a stand on either side of the important issues we were facing. Gillespie did not seek solutions when he had the opportunity.”
So what does all this mean? Will there be additional Republican endorsements in the days to come? And will the grassroots rally behind Gillespie even though some consider him insufficiently conservative or will they launch a protest vote with Robert Sarvis?
Most pundits already predict a Warner victory and so the more interesting question to ask is, what will this situation do to the Republican Party in Virginia?