Social Conservatives Rally to Marshall in Virginia Senate Race

By Evan Moore | July 7, 2008 | 8:33pm EDT

(Corrects campaign slogan in second graph)

( - In the race for the seat of retiring Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), a delegate in the Virginia Legislature is mounting a campaign against a former governor and presidential candidate, amassing support from social conservatives, and has an opportunity to win the Republican Party nomination, according to some experts in Old Dominion politics.

Bob Marshall, a Republican delegate in the state's General Assembly from Prince William County, is challenging Jim Gilmore, a former Virginia governor and a candidate for the 2008 GOP nomination for the presidency. Running on a campaign of "Life, Liberty, Property," Marshall is capitalizing on apparent discontent in his party over Gilmore.

Meanwhile, polls show that either candidate faces an enormous challenge against popular former Democratic Gov. Mark Warner (no relation to the retiring senator) in November's general election.

Vincent Harris, a leading figure in the Old Dominion political blogosphere, told Cybercast News Service, "Delegate Marshall's campaign has been great at riling up the religiously conservative base. ... His constituency appears to be made up of church-goers, pro-lifers, and voters who would base their political preference on moral issues."

Marshall's Web site includes a list of social conservative luminaries who have endorsed him, including leaders from groups such as Concerned Women for America, Family Research Council Action, Republican National Coalition for Life and Family Policy Network.

Dr. Robert Roberts, professor of political science at James Madison University, told Cybercast News Service, "Gilmore was never ruled a social conservative as governor. He was primarily focused on what we call economic conservatives - cutting taxes - that form of the Republican Party.

"So, Marshall feels that the social issues are more important and should have a greater priority versus the economic issues," said Roberts. "I think he's making an argument to that wing of the party that he's more supportive of their values, than Gilmore, who's really focusing more on economic issues."

However, Marshall rejected the notion that his campaign was primarily driven by social conservatives in an interview with Cybercast News Service, in which he highlighted 15 issues listed on his Web site that he thinks distinguish him from Gilmore.

Harris, however, noted that Marshall's social conservative message may be his strongest card to play against Gilmore.

"Since before the recent Virginia GOP Advance [an annual informal gathering of Republican activists and politicians], Delegate Marshall has been vocally upset at Governor Gilmore for his stance on abortion," said Harris.

"While Governor Gilmore would bring up his record, when asked point blank on the abortion issue, Governor Gilmore is pro-choice," he added.

Ana Gamonal, media spokesman for Gilmore's campaign, discussed the former governor's record in an interview with Cybercast News Service.

"[Gilmore's] record when he was in the strongest position to advance the pro-life cause, which was when he was governor, is second-to-none," she said. "He was the most pro-life and proactive governor that Virginia's had," Gamonal added.

Gilmore, she said, "does not favor abortion in any circumstance."

Gamonal continued, highlighting Gilmore's support for, and signing into law, state legislation that banned partial-birth abortions, enacted a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking abortion and required parental notification for minors seeking abortions.

Gilmore also increased funding for adoption services in the commonwealth and created an abstinence-education program for Virginia's public schools, Gamonal said, which in her words was recently "dismantled" by the current Democratic governor and possible vice presidential pick for Sen. Barack Obama, Tim Kaine.

Harris thinks that Marshall, nonetheless, will face long odds at the nominating convention, which starts May 30. "Marshall may come close to winning in the convention, but I believe Governor Gilmore's superior organization and name recognition will win him the day," said Harris.

Roberts, however, was more optimistic.

"Absolutely, Marshall has a clear shot at it," he said. "When you look across the convention system, a number of those delegate-candidates who are going to a caucus-convention are social conservatives. So, [Gilmore] faces a real challenge within the party to appeal to social conservatives who may dominate the convention.

"The Republican Party is primarily a grassroots party - not like the Democratic Party, which is more hierarchical." Roberts noted. "The Republican Party is grassroots, and that's how Allen and Gilmore built the party in the 90s, from the bottom-up."

"[Party] leaders can't deliver the [convention] delegates, bottom-line," he said. "The delegates are going to be delivered at the grassroots."

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