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Republicans start the party

Anita Kumar

The GOP Advance kicked off tonight with plenty of congratulations, laughter and, of course, drinks.

Republican activists and elected leaders gathered tonight at the Williamsburg Marriott for their first gathering since their huge victories in last month's election.

Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell was in New York on Republican National Committee business and will not arrive until tomorrow, but Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Attorney General-elect Ken Cuccinelli were on hand to greet jubilant Republicans.

Spotted in the crowd: House Speaker Bill Howell, U.S. Reps. Eric Cantor, Randy Forbes and Rob Wittman, Attorney General Bill Mims, former lieutenant governor John Hager and McDonnell's eldest daughter, Jeanine. McDonnell's future chief of staff, Martin Kent, and secretary of public safety Marla Decker were also on hand as was former attorney general candidate David Foster and scores of legislators.

"It's been five years since Republicans had such a good feeling,'' former governor and senator George Allen told the crowd.

Tonight was mostly about socializing.

Republicans walked from one hospitality suite to another where they sipped drinks from open bars, munched on cheese and crackers and picked up more stickers.

Most suites were hosted by 2010 congressional candidates including Scott Rigell , Ken Golden and Ben Loyola who are vying to replace U.S. Rep. Glenn Nye (D) and Feda Kidd Morton running for U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello's (D) seat. Keith Fimian, who is opposing U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly for a second time, also made the trip.

It was the 26th such meeting for Virginia Republicans. About 600 activists are expected to attend this weekend -- the second largest group ever for the annual retreat. They wore stickers that said "Cut Spending," "Guns Save Lives" and "+6" which stands for the six seats Republicans picked in November's House of Delegates races.

By Anita Kumar  |  December 4, 2009; 11:00 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar , Bill Bolling , Eric Cantor , Ken Cuccinelli , Robert F. McDonnell  
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