Updated at 1:15 p.m. ET, 1/16/2014
Washington (CNN) – Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie on Thursday launched his campaign to try to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia.
"I'm running for Senate because the American Dream is being undermined by policies that move us away from constitutional principles of limited government and personal liberty," he said in a video on his new campaign website.
Gillespie, who has been testing the waters for several months, will begin traveling around the state meeting with activists.
One of his first focuses, one source told CNN, will be the Republican state convention in June where the party's nominee will be decided. Two lesser well-known Republicans also are seeking the nomination.
Gillespie, who serves as chairman of the largest group of GOP state leaders, the Republican State Leadership Committee, 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. He also worked as a lobbyist in Washington.
Those jobs have given Gillespie major access to Republican donors, which he will need if he wins the nomination.
Warner, a moderate and a former Virginia governor who will be running for a second term in the Senate, has a large war chest ready for the campaign.
Following Gillespie's announcement, Warner issued a statement touting his record in the state and saying he's prepared to face whichever candidate the Republicans nominate this summer.
"Whether it is protecting our veterans and military families, putting forth a bold plan to fix our debt and deficit, or fighting for jobs in rural Virginia, I am committed to working tirelessly to help all Virginians," he said. "I look forward to putting my independent, bipartisan record up against whichever candidate the Republicans nominate at their convention in June."
Analysts have said if Gillespie does win the nomination it will make the race much more competitive than they initially expected.