Rep. Tom Davis recent decision to bow out of a run for Sen John W. Warners vacated Senate seat this year paves the way for former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) to grab the Republican nomination, essentially unchallenged.
But it also underscores the point that former Gov. Mark Warner (D) may coast into the seat currently held by Warner (R), whos retiring next year. Last weeks turn of events also reinforces the blueish trend of a Democratic surge in Virginia politics.
If the surveys hold for Mark Warner (hes up 30 percentage points in early polling), the Old Dominion could have a Democratic governor and two Democratic senators and perhaps a Democratic state senate as well. This would be the first time in Virginias history since 1971. In this case it would be tough to color Virginia either red or purple. The state would likely turn a bright shade of blue.
Daviss withdrawal from a hot GOP challenge for the partys nomination effectively hands Gilmore the nomination without significant cost. The alternative would have been a six month slugfest that might have drained precious GOP resources for the mother of a all battles against Mark Warner in next falls general election. That scenario has effectively been voided.
It allows either for moderate, centrist Republicans to quietly join the Warner camp, or ultra-conservative Virginia GOP activists to rally around Gilmore a scenario unpopular with many middle-of-the-road Republicans who find Warner tough to beat.
While Gilmore has not yet officially declared his intentions in next years race, supporters say hes likely to make his candidacy official in mid-November or early December, after this falls state legislative elections. Warner will make his campaign official around the same time.
Prof. Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia says that while its unlikely that Warners full 30-percentage lead is unlikely to hold through next November, hes the most likely Virginia politician to convert Virginia from a red state to a blue state. A national Democratic nomination of Hillary Clinton is likely to galvanize a lot of state Republicans for Gilmore, but Sabato still predicts a lot of vote-splitting to occur, especially among Republicans.
A recent poll of likely 2008 voters found, however, that 52% of Virginia voters want the next president to be a Democrat, to 41% who prefer a Republican. It would be a disaster if Hillary Clintons the nominee, Sabato precits. But even so, Warners got a good chance of winning.
Few expect Tom Davis to totally withdraw from politics, even if the rumors are true and he steps down fom his 11th District Congressional seat and takes a job as a handsomely paid Washington lobbyist. Davis has openly expressed his unhappiness with President Bushs handling of Iraq and the damage its done to the Republican landscape. The most likely scenario would have Davis keeping his powder dry for a 2010 race against Sen. Jim Webb (D).
In the meantime, Virginia needs a few good men to run against Gilmore or Warner, to make their nominations at least competitive.