The Republican hopefuls for Virginia governor engaged in their first debate Thursday evening at Liberty University in Lynchburg. Candidate Corey Stewart exhibited the energy that shows he should be able to defeat a former lobbyist/RNC chair in Ed Gillespie and 25-year career politician in Frank Wagner.
Ed Gillespie is a former RNC chair and lobbyist whose been successful at cashing in on his civil and political service. However, while most politicians run and win local elections before going for the top spots, this is the second high level office Gillespie’s run for with no victories under his belt.
Gillespie served as the 61st Chairman of the Republican National Committee and Counselor to the President in the George W. Bush administration. Gillespie, along with Democrat Jack Quinn, founded Quinn Gillespie & Associates, a bipartisan lobbying firm. Gillespie is also the founder of Ed Gillespie Strategies, a strategic consulting firm that provides high-level advice to companies and CEOs, coalitions, and trade associations. In January 2014, Gillespie announced he was running for Virginia’s U.S. Senate seat held by Mark Warner. In the 2014 general election, Gillespie ended up narrowly losing to Warner.
Stewart was first elected as Chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors in a November 2006 special election to replace Sean Connaughton (who resigned to take a post at the United States Maritime Administration). Stewart defeated Democratic Party candidate Sharon Pandak with 53% of the vote. Stewart was elected to a full term in 2007 with 55% of the vote, re-elected in 2011, and re-elected to serve a third term in 2015 with 57% of the vote.
Wagner served in the Virginia House of Delegates 1992–2001, and was elected to the Senate of Virginia in a special election on December 19, 2000. He currently represents the 7th district in Virginia Beach and Norfolk. He is a member of the Commerce and Labor, General Laws and Technology, Rehabilitation and Social Services, and Transportation committees.
Messaging appears to be the issue at this stage in the campaign. In a clear prevent-defense posture, Gillespie is busy raising money for the traditional milquetoast Republican ads and email donation pleas. Stewart’s campaign has been repeatedly targeted by liberal activists for disruption at events which means he must be doing something right. We haven’t seen or heard much from Wagner’s campaign which is problematic.
At this point, Stewart has the populist message and has everything it takes to win the Republican nomination. The media has presented the perception that Gillespie is the frontrunner and given the biases at play, it’s probably because he’s the Republican they believe the Democrat can easily defeat in November. Warner is the James Stockdale of the 2017 GOP primary and is being taken as such.
This campaign is Stewart’s to lose. How his campaign proceeds from here is the big question.