At 1:30 today, in the House of Delegates Briefing Room, Del. Bob Marhsall (R-13, Manassas) made official what had been reported: He is a candidate for the United States Senate and will challenge former Governor Jim Gilmore for the Republican nomination, to be decided at a convention in Richmond this June. No doubt the media loves this as the number of cameras and notebooks in attendance attest — nothing like a Republican, and in this case, a conservative Republican, fratricide. They got what they wanted. Marshall said this is nothing personal, that he likes Gilmore, that he called him earlier today to inform him of his decision (it was a "cordial conversation"), but . . . since Gilmore would not commit to a comprehensive pro-life position. . . .

If Gilmore was sufficiently pro-life, Marshall said, he not only would not run, but would actively support him. In fact, he said, he offered to do for Gilmore what he did for Ronald Reagan in 1980 in New Hampshire after Reagan's Iowa caucus loss to G.H.W. Bush — and organize pro-lifers. Interestingly, Marshall noted in response to a question, he had been a Democrat his whole life until he voted for Reagan.

Although his advisers, reportedly, have told Marshall not to emphasise his pro-life, pro-family positions since who doesn't know he is pro-family, pro-lifeand for fear of being caricatured, that's just what he did: From his rationale for running to his belief as to how he'll beat Democrat Mark Warner — by mobilizing the conservative grassroots who made the Marriage Amendment victory with 58 percent of the vote possible; to his opinion that Gilmore can't beat Warner precisely because he is not energizing values voters. Marshall noted that he's won nine elections with "manpower, not money," and that he gets a lot of Democrat votes. He said this race was not on his radar screen, but that unit GOP chairman from all over Virginia as well as every day people have encouraged him to run. He said during his recent re-election campaign, going door to door, people asked why he wasn't running for the senate seat instead. He mentioned an incident at a repair shop where a mechanic asked him to run followed a few minutes later by a cop.

"I wasn't wearing a sign on my head," Marshall said of the "spontaneous" requests. "This race was not on my radar screen."

To be fair, Marshall also listed a number of other reasons he could beat Warner and examples of how Warner is more style than substance: Warner's campaign lie about not raising taxes, resulting in Virginia's largest ever tax increase; his transfer of $300 million out of the Transportation Trust Fund, which was never repaid, and the resulting transportation problems caused by Warner; his amendments to water down Virginia's partial birth abortion law, which were overridden by two-thirds of the G.A., by Democrats and Republicans alike; and his shelving of the Wilder Commission Report on state government efficiency, which Warner commissioned, but whose millions of dollars in savings he ignored.

He also was asked if the convention system, originally chosen in an effort to blunt a prospective campaign by U.S. Representative Tom Davis (R-11) would benefit him. Conventional wisdom says yes, and would be sweetly ironic to the anti-Gilmore types in and out of the GOP. But not so fast. Marshall has to put together an organization, and Gilmore knows how to win convention delegates — it's not a matter of getting people to show up, it's getting people to show up and know how to use procedure. Local mass meetings are infamous for "slating" and other maneuvers to elect one candidate's delegates and lock out the other guy's.

Exchange of the day: Bob Lewis of the AP asked the Catholic Marshall if he was going to raise money during the upcoming General Assembly. Marshall replied, "Is the Pope Catholic?" After the room laughed, Lewis retorted to louder laughs, "You would know."

As noted in previous posts: Stay tuned, this will be interesting.