(CNSNews.com) - Former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore would like conservatives who are shopping for an alternative to the leading contenders for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination to know that he is no "Johnny come lately," whether the issue is fighting terrorism, securing tax cuts, preserving gun rights, or promoting the right to life.
"Conservatism is a grasp and understanding of the value every human being and the fact that when they earn money, they should be able to keep as much of it as possible so they can gain independence," Gilmore told Cybercast News Service. "That's Reagan conservatism."
Gilmore highlighted his "proven track record" on key issues while addressing supporters during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last week. He said he stands apart from other candidates in the crowded field by virtue of having implemented conservative polices while serving as a chief executive.
"The challenge is to elect someone who has lived and delivered on the promise of conservatism," he said.
Gilmore said that, as Virginia's governor, he fought to downsize government and cut taxes, including a car tax. He supported "right to life" initiatives and Second Amendment rights and was a member of the board of directors of the National Rifle Association.
He also chaired a national commission examining the potential for terrorist attacks in the U.S.
The initial report of the Gilmore Commission, filed in 1999, referred to the danger posed by "fundamentalist" and "apocalyptic" religious groups, and focused attention on terrorist organizations' attempts to acquire non-conventional weapons.
It also cited a potential nexus between porous borders and acts of terrorism.
"There will never be a 100 percent guarantee of security for our people, the economy and our society," Gilmore wrote in the final report, issued in December 2003. "We must resist the urge to seek total security - it is not achievable and drains our attention from those things that can be accomplished."
At CPAC, Gilmore said he was governor when the 9/11 attacks occurred and "knows what it's like to face the fire." He recalled visiting burn victims who were hospitalized after the attack on the Pentagon.
The relationship between border security and homeland security was another topic of discussion, and Gilmore pledged to oppose amnesty legislation.
"We can't be a sovereign nation without secure borders," he said.
Some conservative activists in attendance described Gilmore as an effective executive who was out in front of homeland security challenges long before the 9/11 attacks.
Fred Mann, an Indiana resident, called Gilmore the "best across the board candidate" with the "right mix of philosophy and executive experience."
Other candidates, while strong in certain areas, have deficiencies that must be carefully weighed, Mann argued.
John Sides, assistant professor of political science at George Washington University, said Monday that although Gilmore does have the kind of record as governor that would resonate with conservatives, he doubts that Gilmore "can parlay his political record into a viable candidacy."
Given the nature of the primary system, Gilmore and other second-tier candidates will have difficulty competing financially, he predicted.
Sides also said it was unlikely a candidate like Gilmore would be able to gain traction in "blue areas" like the northeast.
He argued that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani would fare better in those areas.
"He's more liberal on the social issues, but paradoxically this is what puts him out of step with many Republicans," Sides said of Giuliani, who is vying for the GOP nomination along with a group of other aspirants, headed by Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Professor Larry Sabato, director for the Center of Politics at the University of Virginia, said Gilmore has been "consistently conservative so he doesn't have a lot of explaining to do," unlike the top three candidates.
But money is a major hurdle for the former Virginia governor, Sabato agreed.
"Privately he's saying he only needs $20 million to win, because the other candidates are so flawed," Sabato told Cybercast News Service.
For Gilmore to have a chance, more than one of the top candidates' campaigns would need to collapse. This was not an inconceivable scenario, however, at a time when there is no sitting vice president running, he added.
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