Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore became the 15th GOP hopeful to jump into the crowded race for president, telling the Richmond Times-Dispatch he’s in and plans to make an official announcement the first week in August.
The one-term governor faces long odds in a crowded field, especially after being absent from the national political stage for much of the past decade. The former state attorney general was elected governor of the Old Dominion (which is the only state that still restricts its chief executives to one term.) While in office, he served as chairman of the Republican National Committee for one year in 2001 before resigning after a rocky relationship with the Bush White House, coupled with dual losses for Republicans to succeed him that year and in New Jersey.
He briefly ran for president in the 2008 cycle — announcing his candidacy in December 2006 before withdrawing in July 2007, citing the difficulty of raising money. He went on to run for the U.S. Senate in his native Virginia that year for retiring GOP Sen. John Warner’s seat. But Gilmore was trampled by more than 30 points by his successor in office, former Democratic Gov. Mark Warner. He currently serves as president and CEO of the conservative think tank, the Free Congress Foundation.
Odds don’t seem much better for a repeat Gilmore presidential run this time around. The field is even more crowded than eight years ago, and now he barely registers in the few polls he’s been included in and looks highly unlikely to make it onto the debate stage next month.
Gilmore told the Times-Dispatch he’s running again because none of the other candidates, in his view, have effectively addressed national security and economic concerns.
“I don’t think we’re addressing the threat to the country,” Gilmore said. “I bring to the table experience that others don’t have.”
Despite his long-odds in the GOP race this time around, here are five things you should know about Jim Gilmore:
1. He’s a Pizza Hut and Miller Draft kind of man
Unlike some of his predecessors who came from wealth (Republican George Allen) or family political ties (Democrat Chuck Robb, the son-in-law of President Lyndon B. Johnson), Gilmore grew up in the working-class neighborhoods of Richmond. Born in “The Fan” area of the capital, his family eventually moved to the sprawling Henrico County suburbs. He grew up in a union household — his father was a butcher at Safeway and his mother was a secretary at a Methodist church. He has some pretty simple tastes, too — a 1999 profile in the Washington Post magazine noted (more than once) that his favorite restaurant is Pizza Hut, and he drinks Miller Genuine Draft.
2. He’s a proud clarinet-playing band geek
That same 1999 profile written by law professor Garrett Epps also noted another passion of Gilmore’s — the clarinet. He was the student band director, drum major, concert band president, and went on to make the All-County, All-Regional and All-Student USA bands. But it was in the All-Student Band that Gilmore found competition he couldn’t overcome.
“When the time came to parcel out the solos, Gilmore came up against another clarinetist who literally blew him away,” Epps wrote. “‘This guy was so effortless, because he was truly gifted,’ Gilmore recalls. And he realized that he would never be that good, or even close. For Jim Gilmore, that was the day the music died.”
3. Gilmore is an Army veteran, speaks fluent German — and almost joined the CIA
After graduating from the University of Virginia — where he was active in the College Republicans — Gilmore joined the U.S. Army, where he served as an intelligence officer. That makes him just the third GOP presidential hopeful who is a veteran, joining South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. His fellow Virginian, former Democratic Sen. Jim Webb, is the only combat veteran in the race. During his own Army career, Gilmore was stationed in Germany and speaks fluent German, and even considered joining the Central Intelligence Agency after he left.
4. He’s got perseverance. For him, it was UVA Law School — or bust
While he was in the Army, Gilmore was trying to lobby the University of Virginia Law school to admit him, Epps writes, notifying officials when he got a new skill or commendation. He was rejected, and instead enrolled at the University of Richmond’s T.C. Williams School of Law in 1974. But never one to accept defeat, Gilmore headed to Charlottesville instead of Richmond on the first day of classes.
“[W]hen the first day of classes at U-Va. came around, he was firmly planted in the admissions office of the law school,” according to the 1999 profile. “The dean of admissions remembered all those letters from Germany, and let him in on the spot.”
5. The race he won to become governor was described as “the bland leading the bland”
Gilmore joined a private law firm after his graduation from UVA, but politics weren’t far from his mind. He was elected the Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorney in 1987, and in 1993 won statewide election as the Virginia Attorney General — a post which has traditionally been a launching pad to the governor’s mansion. Gilmore certainly intended to make it one, and was the GOP nominee for governor in the 1997 election.
He was up against Democratic Lt. Gov. Don Beyer, a wealthy car dealer from Northern Virginia. His biggest attack against Beyer was the controversial “car tax” levied against Virginians. Gilmore pledged to cut it and phase it out. Beyer campaigned on raising teacher salaries, but wouldn’t rule out a tax increase in order to do so. Beyer eventually bent and said he would also cut down the tax some, but the damage had already been done. (Beyer won election to the U.S. Congress last year.)
Despite that flash point, much of the rest of the race didn’t garner that much interesting coverage, and luckily for Gilmore, political winds were blowing Republicans’ way that year. He won the race by 13 points, but two Washington Post headlines from back then summed up the race and the candidates:
“Gilmore-Beyer: Hardly riveting.”
“In Virginia race for governor, the bland leading the bland.”