RICHMOND — Aneesh Chopra, the first White House chief technology officer, will step down and return to Virginia, where he is expected to run for lieutenant governor next year, according to Democrats familiar with his plans.
Chopra, who has a home in Richmond, has flirted with running for statewide office in Virginia for years, building support among Democratic activists and serving on President Obama’s transition team in 2008.
The timing of his resignation would allow Chopra to campaign in Virginia this year for his two former bosses — ex-governor Timothy M. Kaine, who is running to replace retiring Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) this year, and Obama, who will face a tough fight in the swing state.
“Aneesh immediately becomes a front-runner for lieutenant governor given his boundless energy and years spent building relationships across Virginia,” said one longtime Democratic activist in Virginia familiar with Chopra’s thinking but who was not authorized to speak publicly. “He has been wanting to run for office, and by leaving the White House now, he will be able to focus on helping the president and governor Kaine this year and building toward a run in 2013.”
Chopra, who served as Kaine’s secretary of technology, will step down Feb. 8. On Feb. 11 in Richmond, he will attend Virginia Democrats’ biggest fundraiser of the year, the Jefferson-Jackson dinner, where those who are looking to run statewide mingle with more than 1,500 activists.
“I am returning to my home state of Virginia to continue my work using innovative new technologies and platforms to improve health care, education and energy — and to grow the jobs and industries of the future,’’ Chopra wrote in an e-mail.
Chopra was part of a trio of Washington area tech and business heavyweights tapped by Obama at the start of his term to address government management and technological concerns.
In a statement Friday, Obama said Chopra “found countless ways to engage the American people using technology, from electronic health records for veterans, to expanding access to broadband for rural communities, to modernizing government records.”
Other Democrats being mentioned as candidates for lieutenant governor are former House minority leader Ward L. Armstrong (Henry); state Sen. Ralph S. Northam (Norfolk); Del. Kenneth Cooper Alexander (Norfolk); and Mike Signer, a lawyer who worked for Mark R. Warner when Warner was governor and who ran for lieutenant governor in 2009.
Several Republicans are exploring running for lieutenant governor, including Corey A. Stewart, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors chairman who has drawn attention for his actions on illegal immigration; Oakton businessman Keith Fimian, who lost congressional races to Gerald E. Connolly (D) in 2008 and 2010 in a House district that includes much of Fairfax and Prince William counties; and Pete Snyder, a nationally known pollster and media consultant who is heading up the state GOP’s VA Victory 2012 campaign.
The post of lieutenant governor became more powerful after November’s elections, when Republicans and Democrats split the state Senate evenly, giving the lieutenant governor a tie-breaking vote in the chamber.