GOP Officials Eye Governorship Now: Earley, Hager to Focus on Nomination

By Dinan, Stephen | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 14, 1999 | Go to article overview

GOP Officials Eye Governorship Now: Earley, Hager to Focus on Nomination


Dinan, Stephen, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Attorney General Mark L. Earley and Lt. Gov. John H. Hager, the two Virginia Republicans already vying behind the scenes for the party's nomination for governor in 2001, are about to step up their undeclared campaigns.

Now that the 1999 election is over and Republicans succeeded in winning their first total majority in the General Assembly, both men can begin to focus publicly on gaining the nomination.

Mr. Hager holds his annual gala dinner Dec. 1, and politicos see this go-around as the first real shot for the nomination. The invitation went out Nov. 5 to 35,000 Republican donors and activists, and Mr. Hager has set the bar high.

Meanwhile, Mr. Earley's campaign officials say that in the next few weeks they will have an announcement and reveal some contributors and supporters already on board his campaign.

"People kept asking, `When is it going to be time?' and I kept saying, `In due time.' Now it's due time," said Anne B. Kincaid, Mr. Earley's strategist.

Though the election is 101 weeks away and next year's national elections loom, both candidates think now is the time. Dick Leggitt, an adviser to Mr. Hager, said Gov. James S. Gilmore III began his run about the same time, and Texas Gov. George W. Bush's recent experience also shows the wisdom of an early start.

The goal for the Republican candidates during this early part of the nomination battle is to prove who is more able to beat the presumptive Democratic nominee, telecommunications multimillionaire Mark Warner.

To do that, they need to show they can build coalitions needed to get elected and can raise the money needed to run. Mr. Leggitt expects the Republican nominee to raise $15 million, and figures Mr. Warner can spend $20 million, much of it his own money, on the race.

Conventional wisdom gives Mr. Hager, a former tobacco executive and businessman, the edge in fund raising, given his business ties.

The early handicapping, however, gives Mr. Earley the edge in conservative message and building coalitions, given his ability in the 1997 attorney general's race to stay outside of the conservative box.

Mr. Earley's campaign aides argue he can raise just as much as Mr. Hager: They point to his fund raising - about equal to Mr. …

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