FACETIME- Talking Ed: Gillespie aims to save Virginia GOP
Ed Gillespie has made a career of pulling off the unexpected.
In 1994, he co-authored the "Contract with America" that reclaimed Congress for the Republicans after 40 years. In 2000, he was the communications guru who helped secure the White House for a Texas governor with no previous office experience. In the last two years, he steered two controversial Supreme Court nominees through treacherous Senate confirmation processes and onto the highest court in the land.
Now, for his next trick, the 45-year-old former head of the national GOP has become the chair of the Republican Party of Virginia in a post-Mark Warner-Tim Kaine-Jim Webb world.
But after such an accomplished national career, why step back?
"If I get this right, they might let me be precinct captain," Gillespie jokes. Then he adds, "Virginia is critically important to me not only because I care about the Republican party and the ideas we believe in, but also because this is where I live. All my children were born here."
But even Gillespie admits he's been given some pretty challenging marching orders.
"The voters scraped off some of our barnacles in the last election," he says, "but this is a bottom-up party, and being the party of reform and balancing the budget without raising taxes will allow us to retain our majority."
But in talking about his party's future in the Old Dominion, Gillespie is coy about recent Republican giants.
Will John Warner run for a sixth term in the Senate in 2008 at age 81? Gillespie says, "I decline to characterize his thought process, but if he seeks re-election, he's immensely popular with the voters of the Commonwealth as an independent legislator."
And on the political future of recently defeated former senator George Allen, he says, "I don't know what his plans are, but as time passes, Virginians will remember George Allen as he really is, not as he was smeared for six months in 2006."
UVA professor and political pundit Larry Sabato says putting Gillespie at the helm of the Virginia GOP is smart politics.
"Ed Gillespie's experience can help lead a very troubled party back into the winner's circle, potentially," he says, "It's been speculated that Ed has some political ambitions of his own, and so perhaps he sees this as a way into a GOP nomination for office in Virginia."
If this new gig doesn't work out, Gillespie does have show business as a backup. As he demonstrated in last September's "Funniest Celebrity in Washington" contest at the Washington Improv, the politico is also an amateur ventriloquist.
"It never really comes in handy," says Gillespie, "but sometimes I wish I could get our candidates to say what I can get my dummy to say."
PHOTO BY WILL WALKER