ROANOKE, Va. – Former presidential adviser and lobbyist Ed Gillespie clinched the Republican nomination at the state party convention Saturday and will face Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in the general election in November.
Gillespie won the nod at the Virginia Republican Convention in Roanoke to challenge Warner, a former Virginia governor, in the general election. Gillespie is the former Republican National Committee chairman and a former adviser to President George W. Bush and Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign.
Gillespie beat out three rivals for the nomination: insurance salesman and former Air Force pilot Shak Hill; congressional staffer Tony DeTora; and Chuck Moss, owner of a network consulting business.
In a speech to thousands of GOP delegates prior to the convention vote in which he was the favorite, Gillespie promised to fight for lower taxes, fewer restrictions on energy production and to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
"I will take our fight to Mark Warner," Gillespie said. "I will lead us to victory in the fall and we can turn our great country around again."
Republicans are waging a fight against supporters of Democratic President Barack Obama to gain the six U.S. Senate seats required to secure control of that chamber. Warner, however, is an early favorite.
A race between Gillespie and Warner pits against each other two multimillionaires from northern Virginia who both worked as political operatives early in their careers.
Warner made his fortune as a cellphone pioneer. Gillespie worked as an aide to former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, and was part of the GOP's conservative "Contract with America" congressional movement in the 1990s. He later worked as a lobbyist and consultant for several Fortune 500 companies.
Hill tried to make the case that Gillespie's past as a lobbyist made him unelectable against Warner.
"I have the moral authority to challenge Mark Warner; not everyone in this race can make that claim," Hill said before the votes were cast Saturday.
He conceded when it became clear from early vote totals that Gillespie would win comfortably. Hill said he would support Gillespie in the general election.
Gillespie largely sidestepped the ongoing feud in the Republican party between tea party enthusiasts and the party's establishment.
Waverly Woods, chair of the Hampton Roads Tea Party, supported Hill but said she would vote for Gillespie in the general campaign, albeit with limited enthusiasm.
"I don't think he's going to need me to campaign for him; I think he's got enough hired staff," she said.
Gillespie, who has raised about $3 million since announcing his candidacy in January, sought to unify the party Saturday.
"We have come into this hall through different doors, but we will leave this hall through one Republican door," he said.
Outside the civic center, the Virginia Democratic Party had organized a handful of protesters who held signs and wore hats mocking Gillespie as a greedy lobbyist.
"If you line his pockets, you can have him in yours," read one poster.