In Senate Races, Social Issues Take Center Stage

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 7, 2007

RICHMOND After Tuesday's primary, when attention turns to the Nov. 6 general election, Northern Virginia will be ground zero in the fight for control of the state Senate. And hot-button social issues could help decide the winners in some races.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and other Democratic leaders will be trying this fall to pick up the four seats needed to retake the Senate. To achieve their goal, Democrats are targeting three Republican senators from Fairfax County -- Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, James K. "Jay" O'Brien Jr. and Ken Cuccinelli II. Republicans in turn hope to unseat freshman Sen. Mark Herring (D-Loudoun).

In many races, a candidate's personal qualities or stance on a local issue influences a voter's decision. This year, social issues could be important in the outcome.

The Family Foundation, a Richmond-based group that advocates for what it calls traditional family values, recently released its ratings of lawmakers based on their voting record on issues of importance to social conservatives in 2006 and 2007.

In many parts of the state, the group holds tremendous sway with voters. But in Northern Virginia, which has been trending Democratic in statewide and federal elections, the ratings also could serve as a rallying point for more moderate organizations frustrated by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

Over the past two years, the Family Foundation's priorities have included eliminating the state's estate tax, amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, installing software on computers at public libraries to block objectionable material and enacting a law to protect parents' rights to make medical decisions for their children.

Other priorities include allowing public schools to provide transportation for private school students, making it a crime for a woman to cause her own abortion, requiring women to have an opportunity to see an ultrasound before getting an abortion and making it harder for local governments to seize private property through eminent domain.

The foundation has opposed legislation allowing local governments to offer health-care benefits to same-sex couples, permitting betting on horse races on video at Colonial Downs, enacting a statewide tax increase in 2006 to pay for transportation improvements and adding sexual orientation to the state's nondiscrimination policies.

Based on those issues and its other priorities, the foundation issued scores ranging from a "100 percent pro-family" ranking to a zero. Because the ratings include votes of the full Senate as well as those taken in committee, no senator had a chance to vote on all of the foundation's agenda items. The organization issued a score after reviewing votes in committee or on the floor on every agenda item it saw as important.

Here's how senators in Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties scored:

ยท Cuccinelli scored a 92 -- the third-highest rating of any senator in the state. He would have scored 100, but he supported legislation allowing gambling on video horse racing.

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