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Tomorrow's Vote On Virginia GOP's Future

While Virginia's Republicans have been busy nominating candidates who are pure of passion for the party's conservative social positions and while the GOP has lost two straight governor's races and control of the state Senate, Virginia voters have made a historic shift over to the other party. A Pew research study finds that Virginians now identify themselves as Democrats by a 32-28 percent margin over Republicans, a 12-point drop for the GOP in just seven years.

So when Virginia's Republican leaders and activists gather for their party convention tomorrow, they will not only be selecting a candidate to go up against former Gov. Mark Warner for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by John Warner, they will also be making a basic decision about the future direction of their party.

That decision will play a part in the contest between former Gov. Jim Gilmore and Del. Bob Marshall of Prince William and Loudoun counties for the Senate nomination, but the truly revealing vote will be on a less well-known, but even more hard-fought race--for chairman of the party.

The incumbent, John Hager (father of President Bush's new son-in-law), is being challenged by Prince William Del. Jeff Frederick, the brash young conservative who is a darling of the anti-abortion movement and the kind of hard-charging figure who elicits groans and worse from old-line Virginia Republicans.

Frederick is campaigning hard for this job, portraying it as the linchpin to the party's effort to regain its strength and reach out to a new generation of Virginians.

And while the party's establishment is rallying around Hager--a letter of support from House Speaker William Howell turned into a mini-blood match on the political blogs, especially after Frederick's wife Amy posted a sharp retort--Hager is simply not the kind who would go out campaigning to keep his job as if he were running for governor.

"People will decide," Hager said in his laconic, wry manner when I asked him about the chairman's race back during the legislative session. "They know who I am and what I stand for, and they'll make their decisions."

Frederick, in contrast, is working nearly every county in the state, trying to present himself as an Adrian Fenty of Virginia's right, a peripatetic worker who has managed to win in a Democratic district through energy, service and commitment to a firmly conservative agenda. "The key to my winning elections while [the Republican Party of Virginia] is losing seats is that I understand how to logistically raise the money, involve the youth, reach out to new communities, and use technology to communicate to voters why our Republican philosophy is best," he writes in a letter in which he pledges not to seek reelection to the state House if he is chosen as party chairman.

While Hager no longer describes himself as a moderate, he is hardly the image of the fire-breathing conservative that Frederick happily embraces. "We've seen the results of becoming 'Democrat-lite' and moderating our core principles," Frederick told the Virginia Family Foundation in an interview.

There is both a generational and a geographic divide in Virginia's Republican party, and while most party leaders believe Hager will be able to hold on to his job tomorrow, the party is a long way from resolving essential questions about whether to try to tack to the center on social issues and compete with Democrats on pocketbook questions such as transportation and taxes, or try to create a new Republican base focused on abortion, family values, the fight against illegal immigration and a pro-environment, smart growth stance of the sort that Marshall has used to win support from moderates.

Some of the same GOP legislators who roll their eyes at the almost religious vehemence of Frederick and state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli on abortion, homosexuality and other hot-button social issues also say privately that the party's real energy lies among those young legislators' supporters. A firmly conservative leader who was less antagonistic than Frederick but far more of an ideologue than an old-school moderate like Hager would really capture the enthusiasm and support of Virginia Republicans, they say.

But that's not the choice the GOP faces Saturday. And that's why John Hager could well be on his way to keeping his job.

By Marc Fisher |  May 30, 2008; 7:25 AM ET
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I suppose that tomorrow, when Frederick spanks Hager, we will have yet another example of the MSM and it's 'sources' found with their head up their rear end.

Posted by: Listener Matt | May 30, 2008 8:36 AM

I expect to see major loss by the RNC. So many people are discusted, and just plain sick and tired of the republicans. The general feeling I get from others I talk to is at the point of "Anybody, just not another Republican"

Posted by: Gil | May 30, 2008 9:50 AM

Marc as usual demonstrates his completely superficial understanding of Va Republicans at the same time he repeats the tired old WaPo myth of Republicans losing their long held control of Va.

First, the Hager/Frederick contest is more about campaign style and party organization than ideology. Frederick is definately more of a social and anti-tax conservative but Hager is not exactly liberal. Remember, he ran against Mark Early from the right. The current disagreement is over whether the RPV should continue consultant driven micro targeting base only campaign techniques that have lost convincingly over the past decade or examine how committed conservatives manage to win in swing districts by actually reaching out and communicating with constituents. Explaining a conservative or center right platform to liberals or center left voters may only sway 10-15% but when races are decided 52-48, even a 5% swing can be decisive.

Second, I've lived in Va since 1981 and the Dems, not the Republicans, dominated for almost the entire period. Robb, Baliles, Wilder as governor from 81 to 93. a shor two term window with Allen and Gilmore then back to Democrat control. Democrat control of the State Senate until 1999 followed by a brief 8 year Republican control by 1-4 votes. Democrat control of the lower house until 1999. Virginia has always been as much or more of a blue state as red. And BTW, it was ALLEN and GILMORE wjo pushed through was initial funding for the Springfield interchange, the Fairfax county parkway etc and worked to allow counties to keep more of their own revenue (Fairfax used to send school money statewide) while the DEMOCRATS in Richmond during the 70s, 80s and 90s consistently milked NOVA like a cow for thier downstate projects. I would personally like to thank the new arrivals in Vienna and Springfield for giving them the opportunity to do so again.

Posted by: Woodbridge VA | May 30, 2008 10:05 AM

Didn't follow you today, Marc. You write: "While Virginia's Republicans have been busy nominating candidates who are pure of passion for the party's conservative social positions and while the GOP has lost two straight governor's races and control of the state Senate, Virginia voters have made a historic shift over to the other party."

That happened under Hager's leadership, but you represent Hager as the voice of "moderation" -- something you advocate when it comes to the Virginia GOP, which you have stated repeatedly is too hard-line on social issues.

So are you saying the future of the party lies in younger members who embrace hard-line social-issue stances, or in the moderation of Hager, who has led the party during its recent historic defeats and party defections? I get the impression that you're trying to have it both ways, but I may be misreading you. Please clarify.

Also, it's interesting that you bypass the Senate race to focus instead on the Hager/Frederick match-up, which fits into the paradigm -- or maybe it doesn't, depending on whether or not I'm misreading you -- of old vs. new, hard-line vs. moderate, while the higher profile race pits a conservative governor you don't like against an even more conservative opponent.

What does THAT match-up say about the future of the Virginia GOP? Why doesn't that interest you?

Posted by: Discman | May 30, 2008 10:07 AM

I hope that the VA GOP convention tomorrow nominates Gilmore and makes Frederick the new face of the VA republicant party.

They clearly don't see that they are dooming themselves with their severe anti-tax stance, hateful - yes, it's just plain hateful - divisiveness on social issues, and a lack of understanding that residences (and more importantly, voters) in NoVa aren't going to take the rest of the state's crap anymore.

Go right ahead, sink the party even more. I'm loving it.

Posted by: corbetto | May 30, 2008 10:44 AM

The GOP, both on the state and national level is so out of touch with the rest of the nation on basic issues it's no wonder people are leaving. When you pander to a narrow, generally intolerant and inflexible base you end up alienating other voters. As a religious professional the GOP does not speak to my values at all. Wake up! The GOP talks family values, but overall its actions are anything but family friendly. As they say, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." Time to clean house and sweep out the wolves in sheep's clothing.

Posted by: Jeff | May 30, 2008 11:30 AM

The stats above show that 60 percent, the majorty, of Virginians are Independents.

More than any group, as Lou Dobbs has proved, Independents are fed up with illegal immigration and now know, in view of Kaine's disappointing stewardship, that the Democrats refuse to even address the problem of illegal immigration.

At least the Republcans don't hide from the issue like Time Kaine and the Dems. Virginians are fed up with that kind of ostrich behavior.

They are also fed up with the behaviors of illegal aliens and being forced to speak Spanish in their own communities while the illegals refuse to speak English. And Indpeendents in Virginia are tired of paying taxes to support MS13, illegal anchor offspring and the general welfare of illegal lawbreakers.

So, let the 60 percent majority speak at the voting booths. Let us say loudly and clearly - No, to illegal immigration and anarchy.

Let us vote for a candidate who at least is willing to speak of the issue and hopefully able to stop it, starting in Virginia. Say No to the ostrich liberal Democrats.

Let them leave their heads in the sand while commonwealth citizens against illegal immigration raise their voices and their fists to vote for any Virginian who stands against illegal immigration.

Posted by: Tom Jefferson | May 30, 2008 3:27 PM

Fredrick sounds like he's a bit of a zelot, and given PWC's tarnished reputation for extremism, I suspect many in the party will look askance at his bid.

Posted by: Nym | May 30, 2008 9:10 PM

Frederick sounds like a world class chump - the kind of guy who could single handedly clear out a party. Wheeee - a super conservative Republican!! Look at those crisp khaki pants! The part in his hair is so perfect that I can see his scalp!

The Republicans are going to get smoked in this year's elections. Putting forth megadorks like Frederick as "rising stars" isn't exactly firing up my age group to vote Republican - which is why young folks identify as Democrats almost twice as often as Republicans these days.

Conservative values: given the insane rash of scandals these past many years, isn't that an oxymoron?

Posted by: edsbowlingshoe | May 31, 2008 12:22 AM

Pundits continue their simplistic assessments of the Gilmore - Marshall contest as social conservative vs. even stricter social conservative. However, this race had little to do with overly stereotyped "Christian Right" social issues and everything to do with a party that no longer supports limited government, fiscal restraint, and individual liberty. Gilmore, as governor, expanded government like a free-spending, drunken sailor, exhausting his huge tax windfall. Likewise, most Republican legislators in Richmond, like Gilmore and like the GOP in Washington, have turned to government-by-earmark and buying constituencies with expensive government hand-outs. The establishment Republicans may still be able to control meetings, conventions, and the party's hierarchy, but the party will continue losing at the polls. Although the limited-government Marshall supporters have nowhere else to go and will certainly support Gilmore in the fall, the average Joe -- folks who don't want politicians running their lives and grabbing their wallets -- have lost faith in the Republican Party.

Posted by: Bill Kristofferson | May 31, 2008 3:53 PM

I plan to vote only for those who oppose illegals being in this country. Most of my Life I have been a proud but stupid Republican. Now I am a Lou Dobbs Independant and will vote as such.

Posted by: Budswisr | May 31, 2008 6:16 PM

I see from the paper that the young conservative firebrand who wants to tack right has won.

Sounds like pretty good news for the Democrats!

Posted by: Fairfax Voter | May 31, 2008 7:41 PM

Illegal immigration is a key issue. Who is going to fight illegal immigration?

Posted by: NO_AMNESTY | May 31, 2008 8:13 PM

Illegal immigration is a key issue. Who is going to fight illegal immigration?

Posted by: NO_AMNESTY | May 31, 2008 8:13 PM

Posted by: Rufus | June 2, 2008 9:57 PM

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