Jim Gilmore’s quixotic presidential campaign came to a surreptitious end Friday.
His resume reads like someone who should have been a top-tier candidate — former governor of swing-state Virginia, a former Republican National Committee chairman, and the only military veteran in a primary campaign where national security is a top concern among voters.
Instead, Gilmore got just 12 votes in Iowa. In New Hampshire — the state where he repeatedly said would really begin his campaign — he ended up with only 134 votes. Multiple candidates who had dropped out — Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and Rand Paul — ended up with more support. Andy Martin, a perennial candidate and “birther” from Manchester, got 202 votes.
While most candidates held crowded rallies and town halls or heralded retail stops in the closing days, NPR caught up with Gilmore Sunday as he slipped unassumingly into a bar in Nashua, N.H.
Patrons were here to watch the Super Bowl, which was about to begin. Gilmore shook each and every hand in the room.
“I’m Jim Gilmore, and I’m running for president,” he said as he approached the first table, where two 20-something girls were sipping beers.
“You are?” one exclaimed. “Well, good for you.”
Gilmore gave them his quick elevator pitch of why they should vote for him — he’s the only veteran in the race and will reform the VA; he has the best national security experience; and he’ll protect Second Amendment rights.
They’re registered to vote, they said, but haven’t followed the race closely and aren’t sure who they’ll vote for. After the former governor headed on to the next table, they admitted they had never heard of him.
At the next table, they had received his direct mail the day before, so they did actually know who he is.
One patron asked why Gilmore wasn’t in the previous night’s debate — Gilmore made only two undercard debates this cycle.
“They just picked polling that prevented me from being on there,” he explained. “But I was in the one in Des Moines, and won that debate, by all accounts.”
“I have a question,” one man at the table asked, as Gilmore perked up. “We’re going to be driving through Virginia next week — where should we go?”
Gilmore suggested they stop at Mount Vernon, Monticello and Williamsburg if they have time.
After playing travel agent Gilmore turned back to his own message: “Look, I’ve got five votes here. You all know another 25 people you could choose to talk to. Just tell ’em you met me, I’ve got the credentials, and I’m running.”
“Hey, I heard about you,” a waiter told him. “Anybody who’s not Donald Trump! You shake all the hands, kiss all the babies here you need.”
“My slogan is, ‘I’m a mainstream conservative, and I ain’t crazy!’ ” Gilmore boasted.
As he finished his rounds, Gilmore met a familiar face. Steve Dolan and his two sons, Joe and Greg, live in Nashua now, but are from Alexandria, Va.
“I voted for you” when you ran for governor, Steve told him. “I’m a realist. You’re working real hard, and I wish you could win. I don’t think they’re going to win.”
“I can win,” Gilmore argued passionately. “I don’t have to win the whole thing here. I just don’t want to get shut out so I can move on to South Carolina. Every vote counts for Gilmore.”
“Nice man,” Steve said. “I’m gonna vote for Mr. Gilmore. I really am. Let’s see
In a race where he was overshadowed by flashier candidates, including Trump, and cash-flush candidates, such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Gilmore bemoaned in an interview with NPR the narrative that already seems to have been written about him
“I haven’t been in office for eight years, so I had to come into the race and make a name for myself,” Gilmore said over a plate of wings. “The only way really to be on a level playing field is for the press to treat me the same way they’ve treated other candidates, and they have not. My experience and competence is real — I’m actually an inclusive person, and the press thought it was really entertaining to have these ‘radicals’ on the Republican side be featured.”
“Every time they give Donald Trump 33 minutes on MSNBC, it’s like giving him $1 million. It’s wrong,” Gilmore said, pounding the table as his voice rose. “They’re shaping the race, they’re favoring candidates, and it’s been very detrimental to my campaign.”
“I have no intention of getting out,” Gilmore maintained that Sunday, saying he already was planning his trip to South Carolina. He wouldn’t define what success was for him on Tuesday night, but it’s clear that the 134 votes he got in New Hampshire didn’t hand him the validation he needed.
That hour spent shaking hands in Nashua wasn’t all lost — he persuaded one voter. When NPR told him Steve Dolan had promised he’d vote for him, Gilmore started to grin.
“Well, how about that.”
But for Gilmore, it wouldn’t be nearly enough.