Los Angeles, Calif.—The most unanticipated news item to emerge from the California Republican Convention at the Century Plaza Hotel last week is that former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore is thinking seriously of entering the 2008 Republican presidential sweepstakes.
Jim Gilmore? At 56, the conservative one-time chairman of the Republican National Committee has been out of elective office for five years. Before serving as Virginia’s governor for one four-year term, he had served as the state’s attorney general and, before that, as Henrico County attorney. But until last week, his name had not been even vaguely mentioned among the long list of possible GOP presidential candidates.
But here in California, talk of a Gilmore presidential campaign began just as he arrived to address the delegates and the state’s top GOP officials. It also comes at a time when Gilmore’s fellow Virginia Republican, Sen. George Allen, is locked in a surprisingly tight re-election battle against Democrat Jim Webb.
According to one Virginia GOP source who requested anonymity, “The No.1 debate in the Allen campaign these days is whether George should announce that if re-elected to the Senate this year, he will forgo a run for President in ’08.” The same source told Human Events that the faction in the Allen camp wanting him to take this course “is led by [Washington attorney and longtime Allen confidant] Frank Atkinson and the faction that wants him to keep alive a bid for President is headed by [wife] Susan Allen.” [Click here for a correction about Frank Atkinson.]
Gilmore currently heads the homeland security section of a Washington, D.C., law firm, operates a political action committee, A Council for Policy Reform (ACORP) and heads a 501(c)(3) known as NCorp.
In a feisty luncheon speech, Gilmore called for securing the borders and for a Republican agenda of “security, safety, and long-term civil values and freedom.” Gilmore’s address drew a prolonged ovation from the GOP crowd.
“I haven’t made a decision yet,” Gilmore told me afterward, adding that he had “several choices” for a political future, including a possible run for the U.S. Senate in 2010 (when Republican Sen. John Warner is expected to retire) or “a race in ’09,” referring to another bid for the governorship he held from 1997-2001. (Virginia governors are limited to only one consecutive four-year term.).
Gilmore quickly pointed out that he had “a lot of friends across the U.S.” who have encouraged him to run for the presidency in 2008. For now, however, he insists he is focusing on speaking across the country to “provide some leadership for the middle class.
Gilmore was elected governor in 1997 on a vow to “Ax the Car Tax.” He also fought efforts to permit Northern Virginia to raise local taxes for infrastructure and backed greater accountability in Virginia’s public schools by supporting Standards of Learning Tests. He won high marks from conservatives such as Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform by successfully leading the fight among governors against an Internet tax.
Already, the former governor has some fans among California Republicans. Republican National Committeewoman Barbara Alby told me, “He’d better run! He has a great message. And the field for ’08 needs a Jim Gilmore, who talks the values we hold dear in the Republican Party and has a walk to back up the talk. He’s presidential timber.” Alby recalled her service on the RNC while Gilmore was national chairman and said she had “a special fondness” for him. When I asked her colleague, Republican National Committeeman Tim Morgan, whether he believed Gilmore should run, he replied without hesitation: “I do.”