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Warner takes huge financial lead over GOP rivals for Senate seat

Democrat Mark R. Warner raised more than five times the campaign cash for his U.S. Senate bid the first three months of this year than both of his Republican rivals combined.

Warner received nearly $2.5 million in the first quarter of 2008 compared to Jim Gilmore’s nearly $400,000 and Del. Robert G. Marshall’s $51,770, ac-cording to Federal Election Commission filings that were due Tuesday.

Warner has raised $6.3 million and spent nearly $2 million since he declared his candidacy in September, leaving him nearly $4.4 million on hand seven months before the November election.

Gilmore, who announced his candidacy in November, has raised almost $750,000 since and spent nearly $539,000, giving him $208,000 on hand, said longtime Gilmore adviser Dick Leggitt.

Warner, a multimillionaire investor, succeeded Gilmore as governor in 2002. The two men have an icy relationship, setting up a potentially bitter battle to succeed Republican Sen. John W. Warner.

The senator and Mark Warner are not related.

Leggitt said Warner’s fundraising edge won’t ensure him victory.

“Y’all need to remember that two years ago at this time, (then-Sen.) George Allen had $7 million on hand to $200,000 for Jim Webb,’’ Leggitt noted, a reference to Webb’s 2006 upset of the Republican ex-governor. Allen, however, had served a full Senate term and had chaired the National Republican Senate Committee; Webb didn’t declare his candidacy until February of 2006.

Gilmore, a lawyer, is also a former state attorney general and Republican National Committee chairman.

Marshall, an underdog who began his nomination fight with Gilmore on Jan. 7, spent $32,367 by the March 31 end of the reporting period. He had $19,403 on hand.

Marshall, the General Assembly’s most outspoken abortion and gay rights opponent, is asking religious conservatives to make him competitive when the nomination is decided at the GOP state convention on May 31.

An independent candidate, Gail Parker, filed petitions to run at the end of March. In 2006, she ran on a platform of establishing a statewide passenger train network and got about 1 percent of the vote.

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