NEWS- Long shot: Sabato doesn't like Gilmore's odds in '08

With former governor Mark Warner bowing out in October and Senator George Allen losing his seat in November, it seemed as though the 2008 presidential campaign would come and go without an entrant from Virginia.

Said UVA professor and political pundit Larry Sabato in October, "It looks like the Mother of Presidents has gone into menopause."

But just as the race is about to begin, yet another former Governor of Virginia is lacing up his shoes. 

In a series of interviews with various Virginia newspapers on December 19, Jim Gilmore announced, "it is my intention to run," and that he will form an exploratory committee to investigate the feasibility of a presidential campaign.

"A void exists," he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "There is just no conservative right now who can mount a national campaign."

Has "Gov. No Car Tax" got a chance? Sabato isn't so bullish. "The odds aren't all that favorable, but according to the old Publisher's Clearinghouse rule of politics you can't win if you don't enter," Sabato says.

"He is a hero of the large, anti-tax wing of the national Republican party," the pundit continues. "They will have to coalesce behind his candidacy, which is a long shot."

Someone who knows a thing or two about winning as a long shot candidate is Charlottesville city councilor turned radio personality Rob Schilling. Drawing on his experience as one of only three Republicans elected to city council in the last quarter century, Schilling says the best thing Gilmore can do is act naturally.

"He needs to let people know directly what it is he stands for," says Schilling. "When you define yourself, people understand where you're coming from– that's when you'll be successful."

Gilmore is the sixth Republican to form such a committee– the first step toward formally declaring candidacy. With such a crowded field and many more contemplating joining it, Gilmore has to break away from the pack by staying staunchly conservative, says Sabato.

"You've got three slots at the front, and two of them are filled," he says. "But [Arizona senator] John McCain is a maverick, and a lot of Republican constituencies don't like him, and [former New York City mayor] Rudy Giuliani is well-liked, but too liberal on social issues. So the remaining slot is for a down-the-line conservative on everything: social issues, national security issues, economic issues."

Sabato says the candidate closest to locking up that position is Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney– whom the Associated Press reported would be forming an exploratory committee of his own on Wednesday, January 3. It would appear Gilmore agrees Romney is his man to beat. In a thinly veiled jab at the Bay State's top guy, Gilmore told the RT-D, "I didn't run someplace and pretend I was a liberal and run someplace else as a conservative."

Schilling isn't sure that such a pointed remark is the best policy, but understands the necessity of it.

"I subscribe to Reagan's eleventh comandment of not attacking other Republicans, but that's the game of politics, and you've got to be rough and tumble if you want to be successful ultimately," he says.[Schilling contacted us after the printing of this article and said we had misconstrued his opinion. It has been corrected in this online edition]

Even if voting for the governor from one of the bluest states in the union leaves a bad taste in the conservative base's mouth, Sabato is quick to point out Gilmore's not the only one seeking to take Romney's place as champion of the right wing.

"[Kansas senator] Sam Brownback is already in the race, [former Wisconsin governor] Tommy Thompson is seriously considering getting in, [former Oklahoma governor] Frank Keating is conservative, and [former Speaker of the House] Newt Gingrich could be getting into the race, and if he does, he would compete for that slot," he says. [The print edition incorrectly stated Frank Keating's home state. It has been corrected in this online edition.]

If he decides he likes his chances, Gilmore says he will formally announce his presidential candidacy sometime this month, but that's not the only office he is eyeing. Could less lofty posts have anything to do with Gilmore's presidential saber rattling? Sabato doesn't put it past him. 

"This could be an elaborate ploy to boost his stock in Virginia for a run for governor or the Senate," he says. "He's certainly expressed interest running for one of the two."

"I tend to take people at face value," says Schilling. "But judging from the position we stand in right now, where he is much better known here in the state, he's certainly got an easier shot here in Virginia."

Indeed, just last month, the National Review asked Gilmore whether he'd be interested in a run for Senator John Warner's seat should he retire. Gilmore replied that "it would be a blast to talk policy all day in the Senate." (Warner hasn't said anything definite yet.)

As much as floor debates and committee meetings excite him, what really seems to have "Gov. No Car Tax" chomping at the bit is a possible gubernatorial match-up in 2009 against a certain other former guv. "I'd love to run against Mark Warner," he said a week before the announcement.

If his presidential bid doesn't work out, Jim Gilmore says it would be a "blast" to talk policy in the Senate and that he'd "love" to run against fellow former governor Mark Warner."