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Winners and Losers From the GOP Advance

Tim Craig

The annual Virginia Republican Party Advance is the ultimate venue for schmoozing, jockeying for attention and laying the groundwork for future bids for office. So here's my take on the winners and losers of this weekend's event, which drew about 650 party activists and leaders to the Hyatt Regency at Crystal City.

Advance Winners -

Attorney General Bob McDonnell - The attorney general hosted a party for GOP activists on Friday and Saturday nights. Both were well attended, and there were plenty of people throughout the weekend wearing "Bob McDonnell" stickers. There also was a strong sentiment from GOP activists that McDonnell should run for governor in 2009, even if former governor and senator George Allen enters the race.

George Allen - While Allen wasn't nearly as visible as McDonnell was, the former governor and senator gave what many considered to be a strong, inspiring speech in support of Fred Thompson's presidential bid.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling - In a speech Saturday morning, Bolling appeared to have found his voice as the party's new pit-bull against former governor Mark R. Warner, the likely Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate. Bolling equated Warner to the "omnipotent Wizard" in The Wizard of Oz. "Mark Warner is not the magnificent Wizard," Bolling said. "Our job in 2008 will be to pull back the curtain and make certain that the people of Virginia understand Mark Warner's real record." If Bolling keeps it up through 2008, look for him to gets lots of quotes in newspapers about Warner, thus bolstering his standing with GOP activists ready to take the fight to the former governor.

Independents and moderate Republicans - Responding to mounting public pressure, the GOP state central committee decides to reverse its decision to have primary voters sign a loyalty pledge before they vote in the Feb. 12 primary.

Sean T. Connaughton - There was lots of talk that Connaughton, former chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, is the front-runner for the GOP nomination for the 11th Congressional District if Rep. Thomas M. Davis III decides not to seek reelection. Better yet for Connaughton, many Republicans think he could actually win the general election in a district that has been trending blue.

Ron Paul - The Republican congressman from Texas proves he's got a strong organization after he convinced 182 supporters - many of whom are active in politics for the first time - to show up at the straw poll to cast their ballot. Paul easily took first took place.

Fred Thompson - Though he came in second to Paul in the straw poll, Thompson seemed to be the top choice of many of the GOP activists and leaders who attended the Advance.

Dick Leggitt - As a top adviser to GOP Senate candidate James S. Gilmore III, Leggitt was correct two weeks ago when he said he thought Del. Christopher B. Saxman (R-Staunton) was bluffing about a potential bid for the U.S. Senate.

Eric Cantor - The congressman from suburban Richmond wins the award for the most impressive campaign advertisement. Cantor hung a huge one-story banner in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency at Crystal City.

Advance Losers -

Mitt Romney - Until the actual vote, many GOP activists were saying Romney had the strongest organization in Virginia. But when the ballots were cast, Romney came in fifth with just 43 votes.

Ron Paul supporters - They swarmed the Advance to support their candidate, but the rowdy group offended many GOP activists by shouting down other candidates' surrogates.

Chris Saxman - Some GOP activists wonder whether Saxman overhyped his potential candidacy. And instead of announcing his decision Saturday evening, some asked whether Saxman should have made his intentions not to run known sooner. Saxman also let down a lot of Republican activists who were certain he was about to enter the race. And even if he decided not to run, some GOP activists say he should announced his decision earlier in the weekend. That way, the argument goes, the stories in the Sunday papers would have been all about Gilmore and party unity, instead of Saxman's decision.

Jim Gilmore - It may be all but certain that Gilmore will now be the GOP nominee for Senate, but it's clear the former governor still has a lot work to do to convince party regulars he's the strongest candidate against Mark Warner. Many GOP activists are still bitter with Gilmore over how he treated them when he was governor between 1998 and 2002.

Social conservatives - Judging by the racy photographs of Washington Redskins cheerleaders that McDonnell was handing out in his hospitality suite, social conservatives may not be as feared within the GOP as some would have thought.

Mike Duncan - The chairman of the Republican National Committee gave a lunch speech Saturday where he had to justify why things may not be as bad as they appear for the Virginia Republican Party. Duncan's reason to be optimistic: At least we didn't lose the House of Delegates.

By Tim Craig  |  December 3, 2007; 10:10 AM ET
Categories:  Bill Bolling , Election 2007 , Election 2008/Congress , Election 2008/President , Election 2008/U.S. Senate , George F. Allen , James Gilmore III , Mark Warner , Thomas M. Davis III , Tim Craig , Virginia Notebook , Winners and Losers  
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Next: Democrats Already 'Tracking' Gilmore on Tape


"Ron Paul supporters...swarmed the Advance to support their candidate, but the rowdy group offended many GOP activists by shouting down other candidates' surrogates."

Why do I think that the Paul supporters are Perot, just 15 years older?

They have all of the same characteristics. They're angry because they possess metaphysical certitude as to the correctness of their beliefs and cannot understand why other people don't believe exactly the same way they do.

In essence, The Angry Nerd Male/Female.

Posted by: NoVa | December 3, 2007 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Bob McDonnell made a good showing at the Advance. Folks like McDonnell and Saxman represent the future of the VA GOP party. Here's hoping he runs for Governor in 2009.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 3, 2007 8:38 PM | Report abuse

Saxman really hurt himself for future statewide office. He gave an absolutely horrible speech Sat, while leading people on that he would run over the past few weeks. While I would have supported Saxman over Gilmore, I will think twice before ever supporting the guy again for anything. He was using this as an opportunity to run for future office while probably having no intention of running against Gilmore. Shame on you Saxman!!!

Posted by: gopactivist | December 4, 2007 10:20 AM | Report abuse

"Saxman also let down a lot of Republican activists who were certain he was about to enter the race."

- I have to disagree to some extent, Mr. Craig, with the idea that he "let down" his supporters. While his supporters would certainly have liked to see Del. Saxman run, I saw and heard nothing but admiration for his decision and speech. It was a highlight of the Advance.

As for "gopactivist" - well, I don't question whether you are an activist, but I sincerely doubt whether you are GOP. You certainly aren't representative of the people who attended the conference.

Saxman's speech demonstrated remarkable wisdom and character, and the attendees walked away from the advance impressed with Del. Saxman both as a person and as a politician. Should he decide to run for another office in the future, a sterling reputation for integrity will be remembered and rewarded.

Posted by: Jon Henke | December 4, 2007 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Oh I am definitely A GOP activist. Henke, you must be consulting with Saxman now because his speech Sat. was absolutely horrible. Not a good start for him if he wants to run in 09. This was just a very sad ploy to run in 09 and I think it will really backfire. Many I talked to after the speech were not only disappointed but frustated with him for leading them on and pulling out at the last second. The speech sounded very arrogent and self serving. There is NO integrity about leading people on and then leaving them handing on a limb!!!

Posted by: gopactivist | December 4, 2007 4:07 PM | Report abuse

I too was at this past weekend's GOP advance and I would have to agree that Saxman's speech was horrible. A few people commented around me that he was better than this. I am not arguing about the content, but about the delivery. I do agree that he should have made the announcement to not run before he gave his speech. As of that Friday when I met and talked to him I was under the impression that he was going to run. I do believe he will run for higher office in the future and I will support him.

Posted by: J.M. Ripley | December 5, 2007 4:06 PM | Report abuse

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