Oct 16, 2014 5:34 PM

GOP's Gillespie ditches ads in Senate race in Va.

The Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) Ed Gillespie has one of the sharpest political instincts of any of the Republicans' recruits for Senate races this year. But that and a thick Rolodex of GOP donors haven't helped him close a massive campaign cash deficit against incumbent Virginia Sen. Mark Warner.

Warner has a 4-to-1 advantage in banked cash going into the final weeks of the campaign. Gillespie's limited budget was on display this week when his campaign started ditching reservations for TV time for ads around the state. His spokesman said a new round of TV ads was coming soon but those ads are unlikely to overcome Warner's long-built advantage.

The low-key Virginia race pits Gillespie, a former high-powered political operative, against Warner, a popular former governor.

While a handful of competitive Senate races have gained national attention and millions of dollars in ads from outside groups, the Virginia contest has largely dodged the heavy spending because of Warner's perceived invincibility.

Warner, who had a fundraising head-start as an incumbent, is blanketing the state with TV ads and has no plans to stop before Election Day, a campaign aide said.

Meanwhile, Gillespie is all but silent on the TV.

Reports filed with the Federal Communications Commission show Gillespie's campaign cancelling or drastically reducing the amount of money it plans to spend on television ads this week.

Following a report by The Associated Press about the drop-off in advertising, Gillespie campaign spokesman Paul Logan said Thursday it would launch a new $300,000 round of TV ads on Saturday with more to come.

That amount was unlikely to make a dent in expensive Northern Virginia near Washington, where television advertising this time of year can cost around $1 million per week.

Other markets in the state are less expensive.

In an interview Wednesday, Gillespie insisted his campaign will have enough cash to finish the race but declined to comment on specific plans.

"We've got the resources to get our message out," Gillespie said. "We're implementing our ad strategy as we intended."

Airtime always becomes more expensive as Election Day nears and more candidates clamor for more spots. Last-minute efforts to buy ads leave campaigns at the mercy of station owners who can demand premium prices that put cash-strapped candidates at a disadvantage.

Even if Gillespie were to empty his campaign account, he would struggle to match Warner without a sudden influx of cash.

Gillespie's campaign cash shortfalls are something of a surprise. He ran the Republican National Committee during President George W. Bush's 2004 re-election bid and then later moved into a second-floor West Wing corner office with views of the Rose Garden.

Before that and after, Gillespie was one of the most influential GOP lobbyists and, for years, was a constant presence in presidential bids, most recently in 2012 as Mitt Romney's link to some quarters of the GOP establishment.

Each of those roles put Gillespie in close contact with some of the GOP's most generous donors. Despite that, he has struggled to keep up in his own Senate race.

The nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity shows Warner has spent $4.4 million on ads and the liberal Virginia Progress PAC has spent another $2 million.

Gillespie has spent $3.5 million on ads, but a scant $174,000 has come from outside groups, according to the group.

Should Gillespie lose, he would be positioned to run for governor in 2017. Virginia bans governors from seeking back-to-back terms, meaning Gillespie would not be challenging an incumbent.

Gillespie has repeatedly said he's not considering running for governor and is focused on his Senate race. His aides emphasized that again on Thursday.

Republicans have struggled in statewide contests in politically divided Virginia in recent years. Last year, unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli was heavily outspent by Democrats in the final weeks of his campaign.

If Gillespie were to run for governor, he would not be limited by federal campaign contribution limits. Races for statewide office in Virginia lack those limits, and Gillespie could essentially operate his campaign as a super PAC that can raise and spend unlimited sums of cash from deep-pocketed donors.

Gillespie knows that system. Before joining the race, Gillespie was an informal adviser to one of the Republicans' most effective super PACs, American Crossroads.


Elliott reported from Washington.


Follow Alan Suderman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AlanSuderman . Follow Philip Elliott on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/philip_elliott .


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