The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

State GOP ponders gubernatorial defeat; A1

By Garren Shipley
Daily Staff Writer

Pending a recount in the race for attorney general, they’re two for three in statewide offices and in solid control of the General Assembly.

But the loss of Republican gubernatorial hopeful Jerry Kilgore at the top of the ticket last Tuesday has opened the door to some serious second-guessing and back-bench carping for the GOP.

That’s symptomatic of a fight brewing for control of the state’s majority party, according to some observers.

Republicans have been trying to figure out how Kilgore went from a 10-point lead in some polls last year to a 5-point defeat on Election Day.

Virginia Club for Growth President Phil Rodokanakis opined in an online column released Monday that it was a lack of principled stands, mainly against taxes, that did in Camp Kilgore.

He took dead aim at Kilgore’s campaign manager, Ken Hutcheson.

“To political insiders and pundits, one of the greatest mysteries of 2005 is Kilgore’s blind allegiance to his campaign manager,” he wrote, before calling Hutcheson a “RINO” or Republican in name only and an “anathema” to conservatives for his work with candidates who have supported higher taxes.

“We repeatedly warned the Kilgore campaign that they should take principled positions against taxes and government spending,” Rodokanakis wrote. “Unfortunately, we were shunned like everyone else who dared to admit publicly that the emperor wore no clothes.”

Hutcheson said in an e-mail to Rodokanakis that he couldn’t disagree more, and that his and other Republicans’ Monday morning quarterbacking wasn’t welcome.

“Simply put, you are a spineless, gutless coward who is as stupid as he is petty,” wrote Hutcheson.
It’s easy to throw stones when it’s someone else’s name on the ballot, he added.

“You have all the answers,” Hutcheson wrote. “Surely you could win any race you ran for based upon your principles and then certainly do a better job than the guys who have the guts to put their name on the ballots and stand for election.

The implication that Kilgore didn’t take principled stands also chafed, Hutcheson wrote.

A number of other candidates, including at least one incumbent member of the House of Delegates, took stands that were “principled to a fault,” but also went down in flames, he said.

Reached for comment, Hutcheson confirmed that he did pen the missive, but was “speaking for me and for me only,” he said. “Though I am sure there are multitudes of people who share my opinions.”

Back at the Club for Growth, the response — other than forwarding Hutcheson’s initial message to the media — was one paragraph from Chairman Paul Jost.

“This type of work product by Jerry Kilgore’s campaign manager may explain why Jerry Kilgore came in 6th last week,” he wrote. “Even [Democratic lieutenant governor hopeful] Leslie Byrne did better than Jerry Kilgore.”

Other than independent H. Russell Potts Jr., Kilgore got the smallest number of votes of any of the seven statewide candidates, a position he retains even if all of Potts’ 43,000 or so votes had gone to the GOP.

“Fortunately, Bill Bolling and Bob McDonnell had campaign managers that were stable,” Jost wrote.

There’s a fight brewing for leadership of the GOP in Virginia, according to two political scientists interviewed before the e-mail exchange became public.

“I think there is a schism within the Republican Party that is surfacing at the state and local level,” said Bill Shendow, director of Shenandoah University’s Marsh Institute for Government and Public Policy.

One side is social conservatives who want to see leaders focus on issues like homosexual marriage, gun control and school prayer.

“Then you have the more traditional Republicans, conservative business people who don’t have a social agenda,” Shendow said. “I think those two sides will compete to see what will be the prime values in the party.”

There’s some history for bloodletting in party leadership after an electoral defeat, according to Ken Stroupe, chief of staff at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

“It’s still very early, so I’d have to say that there are some who believe there should be some sort of retribution,” he said.

Efforts to reach Virginia Republican Party Chairwoman Kate Obenshain-Griffin of Winchester for this story were unsuccessful.

But the GOP should keep things in perspective, according to Stroupe.

“It’s a party that’s not by any means on the ropes,” he said. If attorney general candidate Bob McDonnell’s win holds up after a recount, “they’ve actually picked up a statewide office.”