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Early in the Game, Republicans Are United

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 24, 2005; Page VA04

Who says Republicans can't get along, at least until election season?

Take, for example, the other night at Richmond's Franklin Street Gym, where a bunch of Virginia lawmakers gathered for the annual work-out-your-aggressions-on-the-court-rather-than-in-the-chamber basketball game.

No Democratic lawmakers showed up this year, leaving their team to a handful of young aides, mostly from Gov. Mark R. Warner's office. Warner, who usually plays, was sidelined with bronchitis.

The Republican team, though, was a model of political inclusiveness.

Dels. S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) and G. Glenn Oder (R-Newport News) were there, representing "the 17" -- maverick lawmakers who voted for higher taxes during last year's budget battle.

So were Dels. Ryan T. McDougle (Hanover) and Christopher B. Saxman (Staunton) and state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (Fairfax) -- all proud members of the anti-tax wing of the assembly's Republican majority.

They all charged down the court together, whipping the ball from Jones to Oder to Saxman to Cuccinelli, who flung the ball into the hoop more than once.

There were a few ecstatic high-fives when the Republican players blew past the Democrats to score.

The game might represent the last brief moment of Republican cooperation before all-out political war erupts between the two wings of the party.

Once the 2005 General Assembly session ends this week, the 2005 primary season begins. All evidence suggests that the Republican primaries will be a contentious, nasty, expensive family squabble.

More than half the delegates who helped to broker a tax increase with Warner and the Democrats last year are facing the likely prospect of a conservative opponent in the June 14 primaries. Some already have an announced opponent, while others are still waiting for the shoe to drop.

That shoe is almost certainly financed by the Virginia Club for Growth, Americans for Tax Reform and the Virginia Conservative Action PAC. The groups are said to be recruiting candidates, raising money and conducting surveys in the hope of ousting moderate Republicans.

The Virginia Conservative Action PAC reported raising more than $200,000 during the past six months.

Meanwhile, other groups are said to be targeting a handful of conservative delegates for ouster, although there are fewer examples of conservative delegates with announced challengers.

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