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Last updateThu, 19 Nov 2015 8pm

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2014 won’t be a cakewalk for Warner

A few months ago, it looked like Mark Warner might, at worst, have only token opposition. His position as Virginia’s senior Senator and as a popular former governor seemed unassailable. It probably still is, but instead of a second or third tier opponent, the Republicans have recruited a serious challenger. Election 2014 in Virginia is going to be lively. Ed Gillespie, the likely GOP nominee, is a former Chairman of the Republican Party, adviser to former President Bush, and considered by many an astute and energetic political strategist. He’s a good speaker, can raise money on a national level, and knows how to motivate the GOP conservative base. He will be a formidable opponent.

The Warner campaign isn’t lying around waiting to see what happens next. American politics is full of incumbents who, convinced they were unbeatable, only realized on election night that they weren’t. Mark Warner, as he has proven in the three statewide races he’s run, starting with 1996, never takes anything for granted. He plans for contingencies and worst case scenarios. With that in mind, his campaign is already warning the Democratic base that Gillespie is their worst nightmare and is someone to be taken seriously.

A number of people, those who consider Warner to be unbeatable, wonder just what Gillespie is up to.

 How can someone with minimal ties in the state hope to unseat such a popular incumbent?  There is some speculation that he is running, expecting to lose, but with the hope of later running for Governor in 2017. This kind of running to lose strategy rarely works and isn’t an approach that’s likely to hold much attraction for a man like Gillespie. He’s running because he thinks he might win.

2014 is shaping up to be a good year for the Republicans. It might even be on par with the decisive GOP win in the 2010 mid-term elections. Turnout will be far lower in 2014 than it was in 2012, and the large numbers of women, minorities and young people who came out to vote for the President two years ago, are more inclined to stay home. This happened in 2010. However, more conservative voters, those that compromise the GOP’s base, tend to turn up at the polls. The decisive issue for 2014, at least at the moment, appears to be Obamacare. The rollout of the Affordable Health Care Act was disastrous, the number of people who lost their insurance because of new federal standards was far higher than promised, and many people are just plain tired of the Democrats. So, as is often the case, they may take out their frustration in the mid-term elections. This is what Ed Gillespie is hoping. He wants to ride that wave of discontent.

Mark Warner isn’t weak in the polls. He is strong in Northern Virginia, and remarkably for a Democrat, has a good following in rural Virginia. However, while these surveys show him to be in an enviable position, they still convey at least a hint of vulnerability. In head-to-head match ups, he doesn’t perform quite as well as you would expect. This could simply be a result off the restive nature of the voters so early in the campaign season. But, it’s unlikely that Warner is going to leave anything to chance. Warner’s political brand, going into this election, is as a moderate Democrat. He has worked hard, albeit unsuccessfully, to bring some common sense to the highly partisan budget negotiations. He thinks that both sides have to give a little. This sets him apart from many other Senate Democrats. Still, he did support Obamacare, still does, and this is likely going to be the issue that Gillespie hopes to ride all the way through the campaign.

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