Moderates Defeated In Va. Primary

Mark D. Tate, left, a state senate GOP candidate campaigning in front of the Middleburg town office, a polling center, talks with voter Tom Patterson.
Mark D. Tate, left, a state senate GOP candidate campaigning in front of the Middleburg town office, a polling center, talks with voter Tom Patterson. (By Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Conservative Republican challengers prevailed against moderate incumbents in key legislative primary elections across Virginia yesterday, setting the stage for a bruising fall election in which Democrats will try to take over the GOP-controlled state Senate by capturing the political middle.

Election officials reported dismal voter turnout across the state, a typical outcome for a primary election featuring no statewide contests. Voters picked Republican and Democratic candidates for the Senate and House of Delegates as well as local offices, including seats in Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties. About 7 percent of registered voters went to the polls in primary elections across the state.

Two key moderate Republicans lost their seats in the Virginia Senate yesterday: Martin E. Williams (Newport News), chairman of the influential Senate Transportation Committee, and J. Brandon Bell II (Roanoke). Challengers Patricia B. "Tricia" Stall and Ralph K. Smith accused the incumbents of betraying the Republican Party by siding with Democrats to raise taxes.

"The people have spoken, and it is time for a change," said Robin DeJarnette, executive director of the Virginia Conservative Action PAC, which worked to unseat moderate Republicans who have sided with Democrats. "It is time to stop raising taxes in Virginia."

Republican leaders in the Senate have for several years governed by partnering with Senate Democrats and with two successive Democratic governors, Mark R. Warner and Timothy M. Kaine.

But with only a 23 to 17 GOP majority, the chamber has long been targeted by Democrats for takeover. Democrats will try to take advantage of the moderate losses by characterizing Republicans as far right and out of touch with mainstream Virginia, several said.

Several more conservative Republican candidates won tonight in these primaries, but I do think that presents opportunities for the Democrats in November," said Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D-Arlington), chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus. "I really think we will have the Democratic majority come November."

Democrats are less likely to take over the House of Delegates, where conservative Republicans already hold power and where Democrats hold 40 of 100 seats.

Not all offices were on ballots yesterday. The political parties chose to decide some nominations at political conventions. In other races, incumbents faced no challengers within their parties.

Locally, incumbent Linda Q. Smyth defeated challenger Charles W. Hall in the Democratic primary for Fairfax supervisor from the Providence district. Smyth's victory signals voter satisfaction not only with her leadership on such issues as traffic and growth, but also with that of her political mentor, board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D).

"A lot of people came back and said, 'Thank you for all the work you've done in my neighborhood,' " Smyth said.

Hall, a former Washington Post editor, stirred controversy within Fairfax County's Democratic organization by running as a Democrat, yet seeking campaign advice from Connolly's leading political rival, U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.). Smyth's victory provides further evidence, several county Democrats said yesterday, that Democrats are firmly in control within the Providence District and across the county in general.

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