RICHMOND, March 29 -- Del. J. Chapman Petersen (D) said Tuesday he will not seek reelection for his House of Delegates seat in Fairfax County so that he can focus on his campaign for lieutenant governor.
The two-term legislator, who in December announced his candidacy for the state's No. 2 job, said he needed to devote his energies to campaigning full time for the June 14 Democratic primary, in which he will face a crowd of competitors. He said he would announce his decision formally Wednesday at a birthday celebration with family, friends and supporters.
Del. J. Chapman Petersen talks with fellow Fairfax County Democrat Del. Kristen J. Amundson during a break in the 2002 legislative session. Petersen is in a crowded field seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.
(Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
"The stakes are just too high in this lieutenant governor's race," Petersen said in an interview. He added that he has been considering for a couple of months giving up his seat to devote his time to his statewide bid. "I didn't want to be distracted . . . or have the voters' attention diverted by being on the ballot in two different places," Petersen said.
He said he was not pressured to step aside. Some Democrats have said privately, however, that they wanted Petersen to announce that he would not seek reelection so that his prospective replacements could begin to raise money.
Virginia law allows candidates to run for two offices at once, as long as one is statewide, so Petersen, 37, could have continued running if he chose. He had said in interviews that he planned to drop out of his reelection race if he emerged as the Democrats' nominee for lieutenant governor.
Four Democrats and five Republicans have said that they plan to seek the lieutenant governor's job. The winner will preside over the state Senate, casting the deciding vote if there is a tie.
Other Democratic hopefuls are former U.S. representative and state senator Leslie L. Byrne (Fairfax), Del. Viola O. Baskerville (Richmond) and Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (Russell). The general election is Nov. 8.
Petersen, a trial lawyer, had $313,000 in campaign funds as of Dec. 31, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Puckett had $167,886, Byrne $109,400 and Baskerville $137,471.
The race to replace Petersen in the 37th House District, which includes Fairfax City and parts of Fairfax County, turns to a contest between local hopefuls.
Two Fairfax County Democrats, School Board member Janet S. Oleszek (At Large) and David Bulova, son of Fairfax County Board Supervisor Sharon S. Bulova (Braddock), have said they will compete for that party's nomination. The lone Republican seeking the seat, Washington lobbyist Jim Kaplan, is from Fairfax City. A Libertarian Party candidate, Scott McPherson, also has filed with the state Board of Elections.
The 37th has long been a competitive district, and both Democrats and Republicans have staked claims on its future. Petersen beat longtime GOP leader John H. Rust Jr. in 2001 and 2003. Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) carried it in the 2001 statewide election, but so did former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore, the leading candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination this year.
"It will be a competitive race, but we're confident that it can remain Democratic," said Del. Brian J. Moran (Alexandria), the House Democratic Caucus chairman.
House Republicans, however, said they have their eye on the 37th and will field a strong effort to regain it. "That was long a Republican seat, and we'll get it back," said Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (Salem). The party is looking to shore up its majority in the House.
Petersen, however, said that he is confident the party has a sturdy foundation in the district. "The pieces are in place for a strong Democrat to come behind me," he said.