Campaigns heat up in 3 N.Va. House primaries

August 18, 2011

Much like Northern Virginia’s traffic, the region’s three primaries for the House of Delegates are shaping up to be crowded, scrambled and sometimes hostile.

Among the state’s seven House primaries Tuesday, two of the races are Republican contests for seats moved to the outer suburbs in the latest round of legislative redistricting. Both districts lean Republican, and the winner in each will take on an unchallenged Democrat in the Nov. 8 general election.

The other primary will likely decide a new delegate because Republicans have not fielded a candidate in the 49th District, one of the state’s most reliably Democratic. The seat, representing parts of Arlington and Fairfax, is being vacated by Adam Ebbin, who is running for the state Senate seat of retiring Patricia S. Ticer.

Racing to succeed Ebbin are Alfonso H. Lopez, a lawyer who was appointed by President Obama to the Small Business Administration and who was the state’s top lobbyist in Washington under former governor Tim Kaine(D), and Stephanie Dix Clifford, who recently left her job as director of special events at the Podesta Group, a lobbying firm, to campaign full time.

Lopez has the edge in fundraising and endorsements. He said his work in Washington would translate into getting results in Richmond. “I have experience working with people from the other side of the aisle, being effective and getting stuff accomplished at the end of the day,” he said.

But Lopez had strong words for the opposition’s leadership. He said Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and state Republicans are “using the Virginia retirement system as an ATM” and using money meant for schools and social services to pay for transportation. Lopez said he supports funding transportation improvements through gas taxes and modified fees and tolls.

Lopez said he was also concerned about what he called the “demonization” of immigrants and gays in the last legislative session, and he thinks “the tone needs to change.”

Clifford has made gay equality a focus of her campaign, seeking to outlaw workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. She has also proposed funding universal pre-K education by restoring a tax on estates of more than $4 million.

Clifford said she and Lopez hold similar positions and would likely vote the same way in the General Assembly, so the race will hinge on connecting with voters.

“It’s going to come down to who can go down there to Richmond, reach across the aisle as needed, never compromise on our values but do what’s needed to get meaningful legislation passed,” she said.

An eligibility challenge

In the Republican primary in the new 87th District, which covers Loudoun and Prince William, David Ramadan has raised more than $200,000 and collected major endorsements, including one from U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). Ramadan is an international franchise and management consultant and sits on the George Mason University Board of Visitors.

His opponent, Jo-Ann Chase, a real estate broker who serves on the Republican Party’s State Central Committee, has called herself the first Hispanic woman to run for the House of Delegates. Teresa Martinez ran in the 49th District’s Democratic primary in 2003, and Elsie Mosqueda sought the Democratic nomination in the 45th District in 2005; both women said they identify themselves as Hispanic.

Chase responded that she is the first Hispanic woman to run as a Republican, which a researcher at the Library of Virginia confirmed.

Chase said she has been surprised by her party’s lack of support for her campaign. She pointed out that Ramadan has donated to the campaigns of many of the officials who have endorsed him.

Ramadan, a Lebanese immigrant, said he has helped and donated to many campaigns in his years of Republican activism. “That’s not why people are endorsing me,” he said. “People are endorsing me because they’ve looked at the race and know who could do the job and who could not.”

Chase said she couldn’t match Ramadan’s resources but that she wants to remain consistent with her values.

“If voters want to send a fiscally conservative representative of the people, and if I can send my message in a frugal way without spending thousands and thousands of dollars, I think I’m practicing what I preach,” she said.

Chase’s campaign has questioned whether Ramadan lives in the district and has asked the commonwealth’s attorney to investigate Ramadan’s eligibility to run. Ramadan owns two properties in Chantilly , one within the district boundary and one a block outside, and a neighbor apparently told Chase’s campaign that Ramadan primarily resides at the latter.

A Virginia State Board of Elections spokesman said voters who own multiple houses are free to choose which one they want to make their primary residence. Earlier this year, Ramadan switched his voter registration to the address inside the 87th District, according to public records.

James E. Plowman, the commonwealth’s attorney for Loudoun, said that because he knows both candidates and has endorsed Ramadan, he referred the inquiry to his counterpart in Arlington. That office declined to comment.

Ramadan said the property within the district is his primary residence and has been ever since the district lines were drawn.

“This is where I sleep, eat and work. My campaign headquarters is in the basement, I’m here night and day, my tools are in the garage,” Ramadan said.

Whoever prevails will take on Democrat Mike Kondratick, a grass-roots organizer for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, in the Nov. 8 general election.

New 10th sees crowded race

A three-way race for the Republican nomination is underway in the new 10th District, which includes Clarke, Frederick and parts of Loudoun.

Randy Minchew, a former chair of the Loudoun County Republican Committee who stepped down as McDonnell’s deputy general counsel to seek the nomination, said he decided to run at the suggestion of Joe T. May, the long-serving delegate whose district used to cover the area.

“I think working with Randy, we could both be a lot more effective because of his experience and understanding of the community,” May said.

Minchew, 54, who has raised more than $120,000, said he supports the governor’s fiscal policies and has signed a pledge not to raise taxes.

John C. Whitbeck Jr., 35, a Leesburg lawyer, is challenging Minchew from the right, claiming Minchew has supported a tax hike and donated to moderate Republicans and Democrats. Minchew said he has supported many Republicans, whereas the donations to Democrats, in 1998 through 2000, were made by his wife from a joint checking account. He said he has never supported raising taxes but once backed a referendum on a sales tax increase to fund transportation improvements.

After serving five years as a substitute judge on Virginia’s General District Courts, Whitbeck said his opposition to Obama’s health-care reform led him to run for public office for the first time.

“I believe we in Virginia can be a model for the rest of the nation, and at the state level we can fight against the Obama administration’s regulations and the Obama agenda,” he said. “Virginia can be a model of responsible spending, without putting a burden on our businesses and families, without further tax increases.”

The third candidate for the House seat, Cara Townsend, is a public policy consultant who moved to Loudoun from Arlington about six months ago. She is focusing on encouraging more Virginians to become nurses through tax breaks and educational initiatives, as well as advancing energy independence through offshore drilling, coal and natural gas.

Townsend, 34, said she stands apart in a race against two attorneys because she brings a background in public policy from years of working on Capitol Hill.

“I have already worked in legislating on issues that affect people every day — I’m the person who’s going to advocate for the community and represent it,” she said. “It’s a new district for everyone, and it’s time for fresh leadership.”

The winner faces Democrat David Bulter, a member of the Leesburg Town Council, on Nov. 8.

This is one in a series of articles on the Aug. 23 General Assembly primary elections in Northern Virginia. The series will appear through August.

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