Given that environment, Gillespie's campaign has been notably unifying. While 2012 Senate nominee George Allen endured sniping from conservatives, and 2013 gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli got it from moderates, Gillespie has made peace across the spectrum.
"I think that Ed has been a very disciplined candidate and he has also shown a lot of people that he's a very hard worker. ... I think some people have been pleasantly surprised by that," said Susan Stimpson, a former Stafford County Board of Supervisors chair who ran for lieutenant governor last year. "I think he's working very hard on his relationships with people. ... I have seen him work to reach out to grassroots leaders."
When Gillespie got in the race, Stimpson said, "I think that many thought it would be quite probable this was just to lay the groundwork for something in 2017."
Yet Gillespie's path to victory in another race would be crowded.
State Sen. Mark Obenshain earned high marks within the party for the quality of his 2013 attorney general bid, and for how he conducted himself during the recount that handed the job to foe Mark Herring. Obenshain outperformed the rest of the GOP ticket in a tough year, and is expected by many to run for governor in 2017.
It's not clear whether Gillespie would be willing to run against Obenshain, as they have a close relationship. The Republican State Leadership Committee, led at the time by Gillespie, pumped millions of dollars into Obenshain's attorney general effort. Obenshain then became an early backer of Gillespie's Senate bid, and multiple staffers—including campaign manager Chris Leavitt—moved from Obenshain's campaign payroll directly to Gillespie's.
Beyond Obenshain, Snyder could run for governor or make another bid for lieutenant governor, after losing out on last year's GOP nomination to controversial minister E.W. Jackson. Other possible statewide candidates—for governor or to challenge Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine in 2018—include GOP Reps. Randy Forbes and Robert Wittman.
Part of Gillespie's appeal to Virginia Republicans as a candidate is his ability to raise cash. As the former head of the Republican National Committee who helped create American Crossroads, Gillespie has ties to donors across the country.
Through Oct. 15, Gillespie had raised $6.8 million. (Through the same period in 2012, George Allen—a former senator and governor who started his campaign much earlier in the cycle—had raised $12.5 million.)
But given the number of other close races to which GOP donors have been pushed to give, Gillespie has done well, said Republican consultant Dan Allen.
"I think he's raised good money," Allen said. "If you compare him to some of the other races that haven't been targeted nationally, I think he's done very well."
Gillespie has largely been on his own. Outside groups and the National Republican Senatorial Committee have not made the investments in Virginia they have in the other states seen as crucial to determining control of the Senate. Gillespie allies formed a super PAC to help him, the We Can Do Better PAC, but it has spent only about $120,000 on his behalf.