Ed Gillespie was supposed to lose badly. Virginia’s incumbent Senator and former Governor, [mc_name name=’Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’W000805′ ], had worked hard to cultivate an image of moderation and maintained high popularity. The final RCP poll averages had Gillespie trailing Warner by nearly ten points.
And yet, Gillespie came out of nowhere to finish within one percent of Warner (although trailing, Gillespie has not conceded and there will probably be a recount). There is evidence to suggest that Republicans are under polled in Virginia, as Ken Cuccinelli overcame a six point deficit on the RCP scale to finish two and a half points behind Terry McAuliffe in the 2013 gubernatorial race. It could be said that the negatives of Cuccinelli (portrayed as an extremist) and McAuliffe (labeled a partisan hack) as candidates cancelled each other out.
McAuliffe and Gillespie actually have similar resumes in that they served as chairman of the DNC and RNC at one point, respectively. However, Gillespie avoided the pitfall being labeled a partisan hack. And not only that, but he finished neck-and-neck with an opponent who prided himself as a centrist; a self-described opponent of extremism and partisanship.
So how did Ed Gillespie come so close to beating [mc_name name=’Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’W000805′ ]? It wasn’t money. Warner’s campaign outspent Gillespie’s campaign at a 2-1 margin. Outside spending greatly favored Warner as well.
The strategy of Republicans all across the country during these midterm elections was to attack President Obama, tie their opponents to President Obama, and attack both of them relentlessly some more. Due to the current political climate, that strategy worked this time.
But Gillespie went above and beyond that strategy. To be sure, he criticized the President and exposed Warner as the party-line voter that he is. But he also went to great lengths to present himself a an independent, cheerful, positive, competent, and substantive candidate. Blessed with excellent rhetorical and television skills, Gillespie was able to relate himself to the common man while at the same time engaging the electorate on an intellectual level. Whereas many Republican candidates relied on little more than a few generalized sentences to describe their stances on the important issues of the day, Gillespie took it to another level by adding detailed, comprehensive policy prescriptions available on his website for all to see. Long-term, being the Party of No isn’t enough. Viable conservative solutions are needed in addition, as [mc_name name=’Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’L000577′ ] has preached for months. In fact, Gillespie adopted several positions that Lee would be proud of, including: adopting a Balanced Budget Amendment, ending the Export-Import Bank, enabling school choice, and pursuing criminal justice reform
In short, Gillespie was able to shed the labels of elitism, cronyism, partisanship, and extremism that have long plagued Republicans. At the same time, he able to put forth a detailed conservative agenda in addition to making clear his opposition to President Obama. He did not conform to the “angry old white man” stereotype, but came off as a guy who you might want to have as a dad or uncle. The takeaway Republican candidates across the country can learn from Ed Gillespie is that the key to winning is to portray yourself as likeable and smart. Not many people can disagree with a candidate who has those qualities.