A funny thing happened on the way to Jim Gilmore’s anticipated coronation, in a way that’s not entirely unlike the planned coronation that Hillary Clinton was somewhat unexpectedly denied. Jim Gilmore pressured the Republican State Central Committee to decide on a convention rather than a primary as a means of selecting a nominee for the Republican Party, which effectively forced Tom Davis out of the race. It was supposed to be clear sailing after that, where a well-connected Gilmore machine would supposedly walk into a convention for an easy win, and then face off in an ex-Governor versus ex-Governor race against Mark Warner. It didn’t quite work out that way, and now Gilmore’s chances of securing the Republican nomination for Senate are starting to look a lot like Hillary’s chances of being nominated for President.
While Jim Gilmore is widely respected among Republicans in Virginia, and I believe with pretty good reason, he’s not someone who has been able to build a base of fierce loyalists since leaving the Governor’s mansion. His race for the Republican nomination for President of the United States, marred by sparsely-attended press conferences, little attention from the public, and a solidly mediocre performance on the campaign trail lead him to be the very first to drop out of that race. Not long after giving up there, he switched gears to run for the United States Senate upon the retirement of Senator John Warner, and was immediately crowned the almost-certain nominee who would face off against Mark Warner, especially after derailing Tom Davis. The party establishment lined up behind him early on, and all the conventional wisdom solidified around the idea that Gilmore was the guy.
Republican Party conventions are not an easy thing to entirely control, however. Utterly dominated by politically active conservatives, it is a perfect place for someone who might connect very well with these activists but who may not be highly regarded by the establishment to mount an insurgent campaign and throw such carefully laid plans into complete disarray. It doesn’t take a whole lot of money to win a convention. Direct mail and robocalls are nearly useless. This is a ground game of recruiting convention delegates and lobbying those registered, something the mainstream media cannot observe or well understand, where passion and energy completely dominates the equation. While Gilmore wanted a convention, he’s not really that much of a convention kind of guy. But Bob Marshall absolutely is, and now Gilmore’s anticipated coronation is not only in doubt, I think it’s almost a foregone conclusion at this point.
With the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling on the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority coming while delegates were being signed up, Bob Marshall’s standing among party activists was reinforced at exactly the moment these activists were starting to question just how Gilmore might fare facing off against Warner. With a hugely successful Marriage Amendment effort under his belt, some rocky relationships with party leadership over issues of taxation and spending, and now a successful, largely single-handed effort against unconstitutional taxing authorities, Marshall was the perfect candidate to grab hold of widespread discontent over the performance of the United States Senate that seemed hell-bent on wasteful spending, coddling illegal aliens, and expanding entitlement programs. Bob Marshall was the candidate that these convention delegates could easily trust to work towards putting an end to this abysmal performance, while Jim Gilmore looked a whole lot like those folks responsible for the current mess in the Senate in the first place.
The results so far have been nothing short of stunning. Bob Marshall has won a huge proportion of the delegates in Northern Virginia, Tidewater and the Shenandoah Valley. He’s even won in Chesterfield County, which conventional wisdom would suggest would be a Gilmore stronghold. Meanwhile, Gilmore is leading in Richmond, Henrico, James City and Poquoson Counties, and perhaps in parts of south-side where he’s better known. Where the weighted delegate votes are, Bob Marshall is winning, and provided my picture of how this are shaping up is accurate, this could end up being an absolute blowout for Marshall. My gut tells me it’ll be a little closer than that, but at this point it seems this nomination is Bob Marshall’s to lose.
Compare this to Larry Sabato’s take, as reported by Shaun Kenney from a recent WTOP interview. Larry Sabato, who seems to get all of his political insight by talking to party insiders and reading the Washington Post, is absolutely in the wrong place to call this one.
“If it’s even vaguely close, Jim Gilmore will look like he’s in even deeper trouble and will raise even less money,” said professor Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “If a former governor can’t put away a gadfly state legislator and do it easily, that’s a very bad signal.”
The mainstream media and pundits haven’t any idea what’s going on here, because they’re entirely removed from where this battleground is. This isn’t being fought in the press, Congressional District Chairmen who have had their picks for Republican State Central rejected by recent conventions aren’t in a good position to take the pulse of what’s going on, and money is a terribly poor indicator of success in this kind of fight. The pundits can’t poll the delegates, because they don’t know who they are. They’ve got to say something however, but without any real idea of what they’re talking about, it’s a garbage-in-garbage out proposition. This is going to come back and bite them, big time.
The pundits have consistently underestimated Bob Marshall, and he has consistently defied conventional wisdom. This weekend they’re setting themselves up for yet another surprise when this “gadfly” who has been building a huge following among convention delegates that they haven’t been in a position to observe once again surprises them. When the media starts trying to explain how they got bushwacked here, inevitably there’s going to be an opportunity to discuss how that might happen to Mark Warner as well.
That might be an interesting discussion. I wonder if they’ll ever figure out what’s going on here, but will be pleased if they don’t figure this out until after November.
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