Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie made his campaign against Sen. Mark WarnerMark WarnerReid throws wrench into Clinton vice presidential picks Reid: 'Hell no' to VP pick from state with a Republican governor Dem slams GOP for skipping vote on 'back doors' in devices MORE (D-Va.) official on Thursday.
The former RNC chairman, close adviser to President George W. Bush and powerful lobbyist, has long been expected to run against Warner. In announcing his campaign, Gillespie used a Web video to introduce himself to voters and tell a different, softer side apart from his political connections.
"My parents never went to college but they’re two of the smartest people I’ve ever known. And the hardest working. They ran their own grocery store, and I grew up working in it with them," he says.
"They insisted that I get a college education. And I helped pay for it, as a U.S. Senate parking lot attendant. Over the years, with lots of people’s help and advice, I rose from that parking lot to the West Wing, serving as counselor to the President of the United States," Gillespie says, as photos appear of him alongside Bush.
Gillespie also lays out his case against the incumbent senator. Republicans admit Warner, a former governor, be very tough to beat — polls have long found he's the most popular politician of either party in the swing state.
The Republican lays out his his case against Warner in the two-minute Web ad, hitting him for supporting the president's health care reform bill and on debt and taxes.
Gillespie argues that he would "replace" ObamaCare -- but doesn't address repealing the law, a popular push especially among conservatives.
"Senator Mark Warner cast the deciding vote for it. If I were a Virginia Senator, it would not be law today," Gillespie says. "Senator Warner promised us fiscal responsibility, but he’s voted for nearly $1 trillion in new taxes and $7 trillion in new federal debt. Meanwhile, Virginia’s share of the national debt has gone up by more than $50,000 per household and incomes down.
The Hill reported last Thursday that Gillespie had told Republicans he would definitely run and had begun staffing his campaign.
Republicans are excited about Gillespie's candidacy, and believe he might be able to give the well-liked Warner a tough race. Strategists in both parties still believe Warner has the upper hand, however.
He also has long been a proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, a stance which could help him woo suburban voters and the state's fast-growing Hispanic population — though it might hurt him with the GOP's conservative base. Still, they believe Gillespie gives them a much better chance than they otherwise would have to make it a competitive race.
Gillespie's deep Beltway connections could hurt his ability to contrast himself with Warner, a former governor who remains popular in the state. Gillespie's candidacy could also force Democrats to spend money they would prefer to save for other Senate races.
National Democrats quickly seized on those vulnerabilities shortly after Gillespie's official announcement.
"Ed Gillespie’s campaign is based on a false and dishonest premise – not surprising given Gillespie’s background as a Washington special interest lobbyist and ultra-partisan Washington spin doctor," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee deputy executive director Matt Canter said in a statement. "The last thing Virginians need in Washington is a career lobbyist with a partisan history of slash-and-burn politics that divides Virginians.”
Warner struck a bipartisan tone in his own statement, and didn't even mention Gillespie.
"I am asking Virginians to rehire me to keep fighting for bipartisan, common sense solutions to create jobs, get our fiscal house in order, and ensure that all Virginians have a fair shot at economic opportunity. I am proud of my record of working across party lines to put Virginia and our nation first," Warner said. "I look forward to putting my independent, bipartisan record up against whichever candidate the Republicans nominate at their convention in June."
--This post was updated at 1:06 p.m.