Gilmore Finds His Issue
With a month to go until the Nov. 4 election, tonight's debate may have been U.S. Senate Candidate James S. Gilmore III's last opportunity to make a dent in Democratic candidate Mark R. Warner's huge lead in the polls.
Although it's difficult to know how many people were watching, Gilmore delivered a strong performance by framing it as a contrast between two candidates with differing views of the bailout.
Gilmore came out strongly against the $700 billion plan, arguing in a concise way that it amounted to government run amok. Warner supported the bailout, saying it was needed to prevent economic turmoil. Warner tried to pin the need for Congressional intervention on lax oversight by the Bush administration and "greed" on Wall Street.
Warner noted that both Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama voted in favor of the plan, prompting Gilmore to say at one point, "I'm not in this for John McCain, I am in this for the people on the other side of this camera."
For once, Warner's efforts to turn the contest into a referendum on Gilmore's record as governor was overshadowed by an issue of more immediate concern. The only thing anyone who watched the debate will probably remember tomorrow is the word "bailout."
It remains unclear how Virginia's electorate views the action taken by Congress today. Members of the Virginia delegation say they have been deluged with phone calls and letters from people opposing it, but there are also plenty of investors in Virginia who have been nervously watching their 401 K plans.
The reason the bailout may works for Gilmore as an issue is that it fits neatly into his message since June that he will be a friend of the "working men and women of Virginia" while Warner is aligned with the elite.
The blue collar workers who Gilmore envisions can carry him to victory are probably the same voters are most likely to be opposed to the bailout, creating a potential hurdle for Warner in rural Virginia.
At this stage of the race, few expect Gilmore has a chance of actually upsetting Warner, who had a 30-point lead in a Washington Post-ABC News poll last month. But Gilmore clearly believes the bailout is an issue that can help him make up ground quickly. Over the next four weeks, Gilmore will likely continue to use it to, at the very least, firm up his conservative base to try to avoid a disastrous showing on Election Day.
Gilmore doesn't have a lot of money, but his advisers said this week they should be on the air with television ads soon.
"We'll be on the air. We'll be on the radio. We will be doing all the things that we need to do to make the election work out in the way we want it to," said Dick Leggitt, a Gilmore strategist.
Look for Warner, who has an extensive background in business, to continue to try to shift the blame to Bush administration and Wall Street, but tonight Gilmore found his issue- if anyone is still paying attention to this race.
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