Former Republican Chairman Ed Gillespie expected to announce Senate candidacy
(CNN) — WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie is expected to soon announce he will seek the Republican nomination for the Senate seat in Virginia currently held by Democrat Mark Warner, who is running for re-election next year, a Republican familiar with the matter confirmed to CNN.
He has informed some party leaders he will mount the campaign after testing the waters and could announce his candidacy as early as next week the source said.
Gillespie, who currently chairs the Republican State Leadership Committee (the largest group in the country of GOP state leaders), has served in major leadership posts for Republicans for many years, including in the George W. Bush White House and advising the candidacies of Mitt Romney in his 2012 presidential run and Bob McDonnell for Virginia governor and also has worked as a lobbyist in Washington.
Gillespie refused to confirm his decision to CNN but told CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger: "As I've made clear, I am talking to a lot of my fellow republicans in Virginia about running against Mark Warner. I've been encouraged by people all across our party and our commonwealth. The filing deadline is February 1st, so I will be announcing my intentions in the near future."
Morton Blackwell, a longtime Republican Party activist from Virginia and a member of the Republican National Committee, told CNN he has spoken to Gillespie several times urging him to run. Blackwell said he has not been told Gillespie has decided to enter the race but said if he does he will be a "very major candidate from the outset."
"It appears to me he is doing things which would be appropriate for him to run," Blackwell added, including talking to activists in the party. "I think it is very important to have a very strong candidate for the Senate."
One major asset Gillespie would bring to the race would be his fund-raising ability and major rolodex, including his time at the RSLC and helping to form the Super PAC American Crossroads.
Some other lesser well-known Republicans have indicated they will also seek the party nomination for the seat, but Gillespie would be the major front-runner.
Analysts believe Warner, a former Virginia governor, will still have an advantage, but some Republicans say if Gillespie is the Republican nominee then it could be a competitive race. Blackwell, for instance, says President Barack Obama will not help Warner in Virginia, a state he captured twice.
"In recent months Obama has declined significantly politically. People don't trust him," Blackwell said.
The New York Times first reported Gillespie had told party leaders of his plans.