One week after he came within 16,000 votes (or four-fifths of a percentage point) of unseating Virginia's Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in the nation's closest Senate race, Ed Gillespie spoke optimistically of the campaign he waged and the impact it could have in putting the Old Dominion State back in the Republican column for president in 2016.
"It's critical that if we are going to take back the White House in 2016, Virginia has to be counted on by the eventual Republican candidate," Gillespie said. "I hope our campaign plays a role in that."
As to talk that he will run for governor in 2017 or challenge his state's other Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine in '18, Gillespie said, "There's a lot of good folks out there looking at the governorship in '17, but I'm not one of them. Really, all of that is a long way off, and it's time for me to just take time off with Cathy and the kids."
In his first major interview since conceding Virginia's closest Senate contest since 1978, Gillespie, former Republican national chairman and counselor to President George W. Bush, paid special tribute to the platoons of campaign volunteers he affectionately dubbed "the G-Force."
"We had a great group of volunteers and we had a positive agenda," Gillespie told Newsmax. "We traveled 56,000 miles in 10 months. In the process, we built a great organization."
The "G-Force" and the vigor of its candidate on the stump ("I loved every minute of it!") are especially significant in that, one year after Virginia Republicans lost all three statewide offices on the ballot, Gillespie had to start almost from scratch to build a campaign.
The positive agenda of which Gillespie spoke included his plan for job creation, increasing take-home pay and greater opportunity for young Virginians. Many Republicans and even the Washington Post cited this upbeat message as a reason the GOP hopeful caught on in the twilight days of the campaign.
Gillespie also took a page from the book of Republicans, from the late Rep. Jack Kemp, R.-N.Y., to Maryland's Gov.-elect Larry Hogan, and campaigned in parts of his state where, in his words, "Republicans don't usually go."
According to exit polls, where Mitt Romney drew only 6 percent of the black vote in Virginia in 2012, Gillespie got 10 percent. Romney drew 26 percent of the Hispanic vote, and Gillespie drew 39 percent. Among Asian-Americans, Romney got 26 percent and Gillespie got 50 percent.
Where Warner had won handily in '08 in southwest Virginia, voters there turned to Gillespie in large numbers this year.
"That's because they realized he was not the senator he'd promised he would be," Gillespie told Newsmax. The Republican's TV commercials repeatedly reminded voters that Warner had voted with President Barack Obama 97 per cent of the time and had vowed he would never vote for a healthcare plan that did not allow people to "keep your health insurance."
In such a nail-biter of a contest as that in Virginia, the post-election analysis focuses on small factors that, had they occurred differently, might have changed the outcome.
Former Republican Sen. John Warner, long at dagger's ends with conservatives in his state, cut a televised endorsement for Mark Warner (no relation) that may have convinced moderate voters to stay with the Democratic incumbent.
Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis, ignored by most of the state and national press, nonetheless managed to collect roughly 53,000 votes. Historically, Libertarian candidates take more from Republicans than Democrats.
"I don't know if these factors were key to the outcome or not," said Gillespie, "But when you have a race in which the change of 9,000 votes would have changed the result, then everything matters."
The Republican Senate hopeful did leave Newsmax with a not-so-subtle hint that he felt that polling from press and academic outlets, which almost universally showed him losing by 5 to 10 percentage points, in the end cost him potential contributors and supporters.
In his words, "Polls from the universities and the media were not designed to measure the outcome of the election but to affect the outcome of the election. They definitely made it a lot harder to raise money."
Gillespie is now focused on wife Cathy and their three college-age children. He offered no hints as to what his next job would be, other than to say, "A lot of folks have reached out to me."
But one thing is obvious: much like Ronald Reagan in his heart-breakingly close loss of the Republican presidential nomination in 1976, Gillespie has won the hearts of his party's grass roots and even some who opposed him. It seems a good bet that he will be heard from again, and in a big way.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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