The Virginia Senate Race Just Became A Lot More Interesting

Ed GillespieAPEd Gillespie

Former Republican Party chairman Ed Gillespie officially announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat in Virginia on Thursday, setting up a high-profile challenge with incumbent Sen. Mark Warner (D).

Gillespie’s introductory campaign video hinted at familiar themes in 2014 races. He blasted Warner for “out-of-control spending” and for his support of the Affordable Care Act.

“I’m running for Senate because the American Dream is being undermined by policies that move us away from constitutional principles of limited government and personal liberty,” Gillespie said in the video.

Gillespie’s entry turns Virginia, which was a safe Democratic seat, into a competition. Larry Sabato, the University of Virginia political scientist, shifted the race from “safe Democratic” to “likely Democratic.”

In many ways, Gillespie’s entry into the race foreshadows a shift from both parties’ arguments and lines of attack in the 2013 gubernatorial election won by Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Like McAuliffe, Gillespie’s career has been in politics. Most recently, he was a senior adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. He also co-founded a bipartisan lobbying group, Quinn Gillespie & Associates, with Jack Quinn, former Vice President Al Gore’s chief of staff.

Democrats previewed their line of attack immediately following Gillespie’s announcement.

“When Virginians get to know Ed Gillespie, they won’t like what they see,” Matt Canter, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, 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.”

Early evidence suggests that Gillespie will have a huge hill to climb to pull off the upset, however. Last July, Public Policy Polling found that Warner, the state’s former governor, enjoyed an approval-to-disapproval split of 51-31. He wasn’t tested against Gillespie, but he led the best Republican candidates — House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and then-Gov. Bob McDonnell — by 15 points.

Here’s Gillespie’s opening campaign spot:

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