Former Gov. Jim Gilmore sneaked into town last week for a low-key pep talk with the Richmond Republican Committee.
"It's always great to speak in front of the pizza," he told the 20 local activists over pizza in the second-floor conference room of the Richard D. Obenshain Center on Second and Grace streets.
A soft but persistent digital tone distracted from his lament about the bad old days when Democrats ran the state.
"Somebody has a cell phone that sounds like a lullaby," Gilmore said, as the group fruitlessly patted bags and pockets.
"I hope it's not mine," Gilmore said. It was.
"Hello dear," he pretended to answer, riffing on the incident last month when his former opponent in the Republican presidential primary, Rudy Giuliani, while addressing the National Rifle Association, took a call from his wife.
Gilmore reminisced about his canny "bipartisan" cabinet appointments as governor. He plucked key Democrats out of the Legislature, and Republicans snapped up their open seats in special elections. That helped tip the state Senate to a GOP majority for the first time since Reconstruction. He acknowledged Steve Baril, who lost to Attorney General Bob McDonnell in the 2005 primary, and encouraged him to run again.
He avoided addressing the latest development in his own political future. Since Northern Virginia centrist Tom Davis announced that he would not run for John Warner's seat in the U.S. Senate, Gilmore, for now, is widely expected to win the party's nomination.
The dodge didn't last long. A woman in a green animal-print shirt suggested that his Senate campaign focus on something bold, such as industrialized hemp. She waved a well-loved book on the subject and pulled up a pant leg to display her green socks made from the fiber. "And you can't smoke 'em!" she noted.
Gilmore gamely replied that he'd take the hemp book, then redirected with a reminder that he hadn't announced his intentions yet and wanted to focus on the upcoming state legislative elections. With that, he pulled an envelope out of his coat pocket and presented a $500 check to the Richmond Republicans from his political action committee.
He segued into a set of anecdotes on national security, reminding the gathering that he rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange in Manhattan Sept. 10, 2001, and was back in Virginia the next morning.
Courtney Malveaux, the city party chairman, closed the talk by giving Gilmore a gift certificate to a bookstore -- a small token, he said, "since we're such a fiscally conservative committee."
"Great," Gilmore said, before ducking down the back staircase. "I'll buy a book on how to turn off my cell."