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Fairfax Delegate Has Eyes on New Title

Petersen Hopes to Be Democrats' Nominee for Lieutenant Governor

By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 7, 2004; Page B04

RICHMOND, Dec. 6 -- Del. J. Chapman Petersen of Fairfax County on Monday became the first Democrat to formally enter what is likely to become a crowded field of candidates for Virginia lieutenant governor.

Petersen, who is in the middle of his second term in the House of Delegates, vowed to address the state's transportation problems and improve higher education opportunities for all Virginians.

Del. J. Chapman Petersen (Fairfax) says he wants to see "new and innovative ways we can move people in Virginia." (Steve Helber -- AP)

Virginia Heads Into Bustling Election Year

Next year will be a very busy one for Virginia politicians, with most of the state offices up for election.

Schedule: The Republican and Democratic parties will hold their primaries June 14. The general election is Nov. 8.

Offices: Governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and all 100 seats in the House of Delegates will be on the ballot.

The field: The race for governor is likely to pit Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) against Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D). The races for lieutenant governor and attorney general are expected to be much more crowded. Four people from each of the major parties have expressed serious interest in the lieutenant governor's job, and two people from each party are seriously considering running for attorney general.

So far, four Democrats and four Republicans have said that they plan to seek the lieutenant governor's job next year. The winner will preside over the state Senate, casting the deciding vote if there is a tie.

"Keeping tuition affordable and using higher education as a tool for economic development . . . are areas that I will champion as lieutenant governor," Petersen told a room filled with supporters at the state Capitol. Petersen said his transportation initiatives would include the development of "new and innovative ways we can move people in Virginia," including high-speed rail projects.

Petersen, 36, who served three years on the Fairfax City Council before being elected to the House in 2001, said he planned to develop a program that would reduce the cost of state government, a core theme of Gov. Mark R. Warner (D).

"I'm a taxpayer, and I like to know that taxpayers are saving money," he said.

Like other Northern Virginia Democrats who seek statewide office, Petersen will work on becoming better known in the Southside and southwestern regions, which tend to vote Republican.

"He's going to have to find a way of balancing his Northern Virginia agenda with an agenda that answers questions from downstate areas, which are depressed and downtrodden," said Toni-Michelle C. Travis, an associate professor of politics at George Mason University.

Petersen said he wants to focus his higher education initiatives on the rural and coal-mining areas of the state.

Supporters characterized Petersen as a pragmatic politician.

For instance, he broke with many Democrats during the 2004 legislative session in opposing the state's decision to cap the car tax rebate program at $950 million, which will freeze further tax relief for car owners.

He said Monday that he would like to see a more aggressive phaseout of the levy on cars and accelerate the food-tax cut.

Thus far, Petersen has outraised his nearest opponent by more than 4 to 1. During the first six months of the year, Petersen raised $83,200, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, an organization that compiles state campaign finance reports.

Former state senator Leslie L. Byrne, who told party members that she would run for the lieutenant governor's job, raised nearly $19,000 during the same period. Byrne, also a Fairfax Democrat, said she will make a formal announcement in the spring.

Voters will pick the Republican and Democratic candidates for the November election in party primaries June 14.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company