Former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie will likely enter the Virginia Senate race later this month, with sources saying the contender is leaning strongly toward making an official announcement before Feb. 1, the filing deadline.

Gillespie, the son of immigrants from Donegal, is a strong supporter of immigration reform and held the position of Counselor to President George W. Bush. He is a frequent visitor to Ireland.

Politico reports that state Sen. Jeff McWaters, a wealthy businessman who represents the Virginia Beach area, said on Friday that he'll back Gillespie in the campaign against Sen Mark Warner (D) instead of running himself.

“I don’t know exactly when he’ll officially announce, but I feel confident enough that I will throw my support behind him,” McWaters told Politico.

Two relatively unknown Republican candidates in the race, Shak Hill and Howie Lind, have indicated they will stay in even if Gillespie joins the race. The GOP nominee will be picked at a convention in Roanoke in June.

“You have to assume it will be a nominating fight still,” said McWaters. "But, as I said to Ed, ‘If you can’t get 1,500 or 2,000 raging fans to Roanoke, Va., for a night and a day, than you probably can’t beat Mark Warner anyway.’”

“You’ve got to past that first hurdle,” he added, “and I think he will.”

National Republicans believe Gillespie could oust popular freshman Democrat Warner by raising enough money and the falling popularity of President Obama and the Warner-backed health care law.

A prominent Hill aide in the 1990s before co-founding a powerful lobbying firm, Gillespie chaired the RNC and Republican Party of Virginia under the presidency of George W. Bush, and served as a senior White House aide during Bush’s second term. He has never run for office before.