Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie is expected to announce this week that he'll seek Sen. Mark Warner's (D-Va.) seat in this year's midterm election. Like the Commonwealth's new Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe, Gillespie comes from a background in political campaigning and lobbying.
While that can give a candidate an advantage in fundraising, it can also be an obstacle on the campaign trail. National Journal's Chief Political Correspondent Alex Roarty has been writing about that, and he joined WAMU's Matt McCleskey talk about a potential Gillespie candidacy.
We know that the word "lobbyist" can carry negative connotations for many people. How big of a liability can that be for candidates?
"Well it's almost not a stretch to say that it is literally the least popular profession in America. We can say that because Gallup actually polled the public over 20 or 30 different professions to see which they perceived to be the most trustworthy and honest. Ranking dead last, behind even lawmakers themselves, were lobbyists. Only 6 percent of the public considered them honest and trustworthy. Based on that, you can see how being a lobbyist wouldn't exactly be an ideal background for a political candidate."
We know of Gov. Terry McAuliffe's recent victory. What other examples have you found of lobbyists entering big races?
"You mentioned at the top the news that Ed Gillespie is now widely expected to join the Virginia senate race. He's really the first major Republican to step up and challenge the incumbent Democratic senator, Mark Warner. In fact, just last night you had a candidate named David Jolly win the Republican nomination for the special congressional election in Florida who was also a lobbyist. The interesting thing about all these cases is that these are the people that you would least expect to run for office or to have any success, yet they are having some success as you pointed out with Terry McAuliffe himself winning the race last year to become Virginia's new governor."
How do these candidates overcome the criticism that comes from a lobbying background?
"It's interesting that you mention Haley Barbour as he's kind of the quintessential example of a former lobbyist turning into a successful political career. He was able to emphasize that he was a lobbyist, but he got things done. He made things happen with both parties."
To what extent can lobbying prepare a candidate for office?
"You have to remember the public is pretty dissatisfied with both parties right now - almost historically so with our political system. I think people who can position themselves as able to cut through that really do resonate with the public. In some ways a lobbyist helps with that argument because if nothing else, they are someone who understands the political system. That is their livelihood after all."
So what does this all mean for Ed Gillespie? What are his odds going up against an incumbent like Mark Warner — who has been popular among voters?
"I think that, lobbyists aside, Mark Warner is a very formidable foe. I don't think there's any doubt that Ed Gillespie enters the race as a long shot. There's a reason that Republicans spent almost a year looking for a candidate to take on Mark Warner. It is good news for the GOP both in Virginia and Nationally that they have found a credible candidate, but I think the former RNC chairman starts pretty far down the list of candidates you would expect to upset an incumbent next year or this year."