With polls showing the two leading Republican prospects for the Senate in Virginia — Rep. Tom Davis and former Gov. Jim Gilmore — both trailing certain Democratic nominee and former Gov. Mark Warner by double-digit percentages, talk has begun among Old Dominion Republicans of looking for another contender. One name that has been the subject of speculation is that of General Peter Pace, who officially stepped down as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
As the first Marine to hold the highest military command in the nation, the 61-year-old Pace has been a frequent fixture in the news while JCS chairman. Although his politics are not known and Pace may have followed the path of Colin Powell and Dwight Eisenhower in not choosing to vote while holding command positions, it is widely thought that the retiring general is a Republican and a cultural conservative as well. Twice this year, he made headlines by citing the Uniform Code of Military Justice about homosexual behavior and, in the process, clashed with the retiring Republican senator from Virginia, John Warner.
“It’s possible Pete Pace could be a candidate,” Ivan Scott, veteran CBS radio Pentagon correspondent, told me this afternoon, shortly after attending retirement ceremonies at the Pentagon for the general. Scott noted that “he is now a resident of McLean, Virginia and has all the credentials.”
But, he added, “I would think not because he doesn’t have the appetite for elective politics.”
The record of retired generals and other top military and naval brass running for office has not been a strong one. Dwight Eisenhower was the last retired general to be elected president, but others who tried for the nomination — Republican Alexander Haig in 1988 and Democrat Wesley Clark in ’04 — fared poorly at the polls. Retired Gen. Claudia Kennedy, the highest-ranked woman in the Army, seriously explored a Senate bid from Virginia as a Democrat in 1999, but opted against the race. The last top brass officer to win a Senate seat was retired Admiral Jeremiah Denton, the highest-ranked prisoner of war in Vietnam, who was elected senator from Alabama as a Republican in 1980 and defeated for re-election in 1986.