RICHMOND -- Six of the 17 Republican House delegates in Virginia who defied their party leaders last year by supporting state tax increases are expected to be challenged in primaries, GOP activists and lawmakers say.
In each case, the potential GOP candidate cited the votes on taxes as a reason for running. In some instances, they also said they are concerned that the incumbents represent a wing of the party that is out of step with Virginia Republican values on social issues such as abortion and dispensing emergency contraceptives to minors.
Six of the 17 Republican delegates who defied their leaders in the Virginia House are expected to face opponents in the June 14 primaries:
Del. L. Preston Bryant Jr. (Lynchburg) challenged by Robert Garber, former Lynchburg council member.
Del. Robert D. "Bobby" Orrock Sr. (Spotsylvania) challenged by Shaun Kenney, chairman of the Spotsylvania Republican Committee.
Del. Harry J. Parrish (Manassas) challenged by Steve Chapman, small-business owner.
Del. Joe T. May (Loudoun) challenged by Christopher Oprison, Leesburg lawyer.
Del. Edward T. Scott (Madison) challenged by Mark Jarvis, founder and president of Champion Learning Centers.
Del. Gary A. Reese (Fairfax) challenged by Chris Craddock, director of student ministries at the King's Chapel.
"We call 'em RINOs -- Republicans in Name Only," said Mark Jarvis, a former pastor who is challenging Del. Edward T. Scott of Madison for the Republican nomination in the 30th District, which encompasses parts of central Virginia.
"They are trying to make our state a blue state. They won't say it, but they are," Jarvis said of the Republicans who voted for the increases. In the political color-coding of presidential campaigns, a blue state is Democratic and a red state is Republican.
Several incumbents said in interviews that the majority of Republicans in their districts supported their candidacies, even if some constituents may have disagreed with a few of their votes.
"I am a common-sense conservative," Scott said in an interview, pointing out that House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) visited his district to lend support this month. "I still have the solid support in my district."
Politicians and political observers said the number of challenges filed against incumbents is unusually high. But they also said it was unclear whether the anti-tax conservatives who swore vengeance against the GOP mavericks were on course to fulfill their threat because they have fielded opponents to a little more than a third of their targets.
Republican leaders said that with a caucus of 60 delegates, differences of opinion are to be expected. House leaders continue to say they support the incumbents.
"We have a big tent with lots of ideas," said House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem).
The 2004 General Assembly session produced one of the biggest political fights in Virginia's recent history. The Republican-controlled legislature deadlocked over proposals to raise several taxes, including those on sales and cigarettes. The breakthrough came when the 17 Republican delegates agreed to support a tax plan. Many conservative Republicans saw it as a betrayal of the party's principles, but the mavericks said they acted to protect the state's finances and ensure support for public schools.
Friday was the deadline for delegate contenders to submit nominating signatures to their local party committees to run in the June 14 primaries. Each party has until Wednesday to register its candidates with the Board of Elections.
In all, there are primary challengers for at least nine GOP delegates. Three of the challenges are against anti-tax delegates. Democrats expect only one of their incumbents to face a primary opponent.
Larry Sabato, a professor of political science at the University of Virginia, said that in recent decades there have been six to 11 primaries in each election cycle -- and the majority were for open seats.
"It's obvious this year is well above average for the last 25 years in challenges to incumbents," Sabato said. This year's House primaries indicate turmoil within the GOP over key issues, he said.
"Every now and then you have a controversy that really does split a party for a number of years, and the [2004 tax fight] was the controversy," he said. But Sabato pointed out: "The anti-taxers did not succeed in their original plan to have widespread challenges."
Others said it was unclear how serious a threat the challengers pose. It takes 125 valid signatures on a nominating petition to get on a primary ballot. The validity of the signatures can be challenged.
"I'm not sure how formidable they are yet," said Mark J. Rozell, a professor of political science at George Mason University.
Several potential candidates said they are intent on challenging the incumbents on a range of issues, not just taxes.
If Scott "had voted right on the moral issues, I wouldn't be in this race," Jarvis said. He cited Scott's opposition to a bill that required parental notification for minors to receive the morning-after pill as an example of his "moderate" social stands.
"Taxes are important," Jarvis said, "but I didn't get in just for the taxes."
Scott, who along with the five other targeted mavericks will receive financial help from a political action committee designed to support them, said his vote against the contraceptives bill last year was in step with most House Republicans.
Several challengers also said they believe it's time for a move to younger leadership in their districts. Four of them are under 30.
"We will have to decide whether we want to stand behind conservative principles of limited government and low taxes or whether we are just going to be a little less liberal than the Democrats," said Shaun Kenney, 27, a program analyst who has filed to run against Del. Robert D. "Bobby" Orrock Sr. (R-Spotsylvania), who is 49.
All 100 seats in the House will be on the ballot in the Nov. 8 general election.