Infighting, Likely Low Turnout Might Tilt Virginia's Primaries

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 10, 2007

RICHMOND -- Virginians go to the polls Tuesday to decide primary elections that could help determine who controls the General Assembly next year and could test conservative and moderate strength within the state Republican Party.

On the final weekend of a relatively subdued campaign, Republican and Democratic candidates for the Senate and House of Delegates are making late appeals to voters. In Northern Virginia, voters in Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties will also choose candidates for local offices.

The primary will set the stage for a grueling fall campaign for the seats of all 140 delegates and senators. On Nov. 6, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William voters also will pick county supervisors and other local officials.

Because there are no statewide candidates Tuesday, political strategists expect voter turnout in many of the primaries to be less than 5 percent, making it very difficult to predict the outcomes.

"Turnout is going to be so low, nobody can be comfortable, no matter how strong you think you are," Republican strategist J. Scott Leake said.

Tuesday's results could have a significant impact on Democratic leaders' hopes to pick up seats in the Republican-led General Assembly.

In some of the GOP contests between conservative and moderate candidates, Democrats believe their chances to gain seats this fall will improve if the conservative candidate wins. Democrats need to gain four Senate seats and 11 House seats to regain control.

"For the Republicans, there are a number of House and Senate seats that could either stay Republican or go Democratic, depending on the results of the primary," said Larry J. Sabato, a University of Virginia politics professor.

Northern Virginia, where voters have sided with the Democrats in recent statewide elections, is likely to become ground zero in the fight for control of the General Assembly.

In one of the liveliest races, two Republicans are vying to replace retiring Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. (R-Winchester), a moderate, in the 27th District. The district covers all of Loudoun County west of Route 15, most of Fauquier County, all of Clarke and Frederick counties and the city of Winchester. The two contenders, Mark D. Tate, a former Middleburg Town Council member, and Jill Holtzman Vogel, a lawyer from Upperville, are both conservatives.

The 27th District race has been shadowed by a campaign finance scandal. A grand jury indicted Tate on May 22 on election fraud and perjury charges stemming from his campaign finance statements. Tate said the indictments were politically motivated because supporters of Holtzman Vogel were instrumental in notifying the Loudoun County prosecutor, who backs Tate's opponent.

In a hard-fought battle for an open seat in Fairfax, R.C. "Rip" Sullivan Jr., a McLean lawyer, and Margaret G. Vanderhye, a McLean consultant, are vying for the Democratic nomination to replace retiring Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax).

Two GOP incumbents in Fairfax could face challenges from two Democrats seeking their party's nominations: Sen. James K. "Jay" O'Brien Jr. and Del. Timothy D. Hugo (R-Fairfax).

The contests in Northern Virginia are tame compared with several primaries taking place elsewhere, some of which center on whether incumbents have betrayed their parties.

In heavily Democratic Richmond, state Sen. Benjamin J. Lambert III (D) is trying to fend off Del. A. Donald McEachin (D), a contest that could be swayed by Democratic primary voters' animus for President Bush.

McEachin accuses Lambert of betraying the Democratic Party in the fall by endorsing Republican George Allen over Democrat James Webb in the U.S. Senate race, which Webb won.

McEachin, who has been endorsed by Webb and many local Democratic activists, is circulating pictures of Lambert, Bush and Allen campaigning together. Lambert is emphasizing his record of steering large amounts of money to his district and getting votes from Republicans and independents, who can vote in the Democratic primary.

In Portsmouth, loyalty to the Democratic Party also is a central theme of Henry Light's challenge to Del. Johnny S. Joannou (Portsmouth). Light, a lawyer and political newcomer, has pointed out that Joannou was the only Democrat to oppose then-Gov. Mark R. Warner's $1.5 billion tax increase in 2004. Warner (D), who has endorsed Light, had argued that the tax increase was needed to fund essential government services.

There is similar infighting in the Republican Party, in which the conservative and moderate wings are sparring for control of the Virginia Senate.

Conservatives have joined forces to try to unseat several incumbent GOP senators they accuse of being too willing to work with Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and Warner.

The highest-profile, best-financed conservative challenges are aimed at Majority Leader Walter A. Stosch (R-Henrico), Sen. Martin E. Williams (R-Newport News) and Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr. (R-Augusta), all of whom supported Warner's 2004 tax increase and Kaine's effort to raise taxes in 2006 for transportation improvements.

The Club for Growth, an anti-tax organization, has been sending out mailers accusing Stosch of voting to raise his own pay while supporting higher taxes for his constituents. His challenger is Joseph E. Blackburn, an anti-tax conservative.

"Don't have money to burn?" asks one mailer that shows a burning $20 bill. "Then you should know about the real Walter Stosch record. . . . He raised his pay. He raised our taxes."

Stosch, who has raised more than $1 million for his campaign, has responded by flooding Richmond television with commercials pointing out he has voted for 33 tax cuts during his legislative career.

Taxes aren't the only issue prominent in the contests.

In Williams's race against conservative challenger Trish Stall, Senate GOP leaders are financing a radio ad that says Stall once signed a petition expressing support for "ending government involvement in education."

The petition was spearheaded by the Alliance for the Separation of School and State, which advocates home schooling. The alliance quoted Stall as saying that "public education today is totally government controlled to socially engineer our society into dumbed-down citizenry."

In the Shenandoah Valley, Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte (R-Va.) is helping Hanger, the state senator from Augusta, fend off an aggressive challenge from conservative businessman R. Scott Sayre.

Sayre says that Hanger, who was elected to the House of Delegates in 1983 and the Senate in 1995, has been in office too long and has lost touch with the region's conservative values. Sayre cites Hanger's past support for legislation to let some illegal immigrants pay in-state tuition.

"It's a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party in Virginia," Sayre said. "It's a conservative state, and I am going up against a person who is a moderate."

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