Still aglow from their party’s election victories last week, some Virginia Republicans are already looking ahead to the contests of 2013, particularly for the state’s suddenly pivotal lieutenant governor’s post.
The race to be Virginia’s next governor has narrowed on the GOP side, with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling expected to run and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II considering a bid. But the contest to replace Bolling as lieutenant governor appears to be wide open, with some prominent candidates quickly making their intentions known.
The position became more powerful — and more desirable — after last week’s elections, when Republicans moved into a 20-20 tie with Democrats in the state Senate and handed Bolling the effective tiebreaking vote in the chamber.
If Republicans hold the lieutenant governor’s post, Bolling’s successor will be able to break ties at least through 2015. If Democrats take the job, they will regain control of the Senate.
Corey A. Stewart (R), the Prince William Board of County Supervisors chairman who has drawn attention for his controversial actions to combat illegal immigration, said he is weighing a bid for lieutenant governor. First elected chairman in 2006, he won another term handily last week, and sources said he has already begun asking key Republicans for their endorsements in the lieutenant governor’s race.
“I am considering it,” Stewart said. “I never have made any bones about it. I haven’t made any decisions. I am taking a little bit of a breather after my reelection. These races start off crowded and winnow down. I’ve demonstrated that I can win across party lines in Northern Virginia even in bad years.”
Also openly mulling over a campaign is Oakton businessman Keith Fimian (R), who lost back-to-back congressional races to Gerald E. Connolly (D) in 2008 and 2010 in a district that includes much of Fairfax and Prince William counties.
“I’m giving it thought,” Fimian said. “There are a lot of people who are encouraging me to do that, and I’m considering it.”
This year, Fimian started the Growth, Opportunity & Prosperity Fund, a political action committee that aims to elect “pro-business candidates” in Virginia. The PAC drew notice for raising $300,000 in just three months, much of it in the form of large donations from the likes of prominent Richmond businessman Richard L. Sharp.
Fimian then handed out close to $100,000 in contributions to Republican candidates for the assembly and local offices.
The founder of the home-inspection company U.S. Inspect, Fimian can tout his personal wealth and his relationships with other deep-pocketed businessmen. But he is not well-known outside of Northern Virginia, and he has failed in his only two bids for office.
In his 2010 race against Connolly, he lost by less than 1,000 votes when three other Republicans in the state managed to oust congressional incumbents. Fimian said his record should not be held against him.
“The fact is I ran in a district that is liberal, and in any other district I’d be in Congress right now,” Fimian said.
Republican activists say Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), a lawyer who is the son and brother of former state party leaders, has expressed interest in running for lieutenant governor. But if Cuccinelli decides to join the race for governor, Obenshain could run to succeed him as attorney general, possibly against Del. Robert B. Bell (R-Charlottesville).
Several Republicans said they also expected Sen. Jeff McWaters (R-Virginia Beach) to consider a bid for lieutenant governor. McWaters, the founder of the health-care firm Amerigroup, could potentially inject millions of dollars from his own pocket into a statewide race.
“What I would say at this point is that I just got reelected to the Virginia Senate,” McWaters said in an interview, adding that he has not been focused on any future races.
Democrats, meanwhile, are still looking to regroup after losing control of the Virginia Senate this year and all three statewide races in 2009.
Former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe, who lost his party’s nomination for governor, is widely expected to make another run in 2013.
House Minority Leader Ward L. Armstrong (Henry) said he’s still considering a run for statewide office in 2013 even though he lost his House seat last week. He said he will speak to his family about whether to run for governor, lieutenant governor or attorney general but would probably not campaign for the House of Delegates again.
“Certainly, I need some time to decide what I’m going to do,” Armstrong said. “I haven’t made any decisions to run or not to run.’’
Other Democrats being mentioned for lieutenant governor are Sen. Ralph S. Northam (Norfolk), Del. Kenneth Cooper Alexander (Norfolk) and Aneesh P. Chopra, who served as secretary of technology for Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and is now the nation’s first chief technology officer.
Alexander said he’s focused on the coming session: “It’s early. It’s somewhat premature.”
Northam is keeping all “options open,” he said. “We’re going to look at things. Right now, I’m open-minded.”